The innovative assisted-breathing device MVM, created in Italy but developed thanks to an international collaboration, provides different ventilation modes and has a simple design based on components that are easy to find on the market.
It was built in just over a month during the lockdown period to address the dramatic shortage of ventilators in the midst of the health emergency. Basic research and multidisciplinary international cooperation came together to save lives, for the purpose of serving the community.
We asked some questions to the project creator, Cristian Galbiati of Princeton University and of the Gran Sasso Science Institute, associated with the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics.
Can you explain the correlation between fundamental physics and mechanical ventilator?
The ventilator is based on physical principles. We have been carrying out advanced research on technical gases at the Gran Sasso Science Institute and studying cryogenic gases since 2010. This experience has allowed us to acquire unique skills and the ability to manage gas instability with the “circumspection” and precision due.
How did the idea for MVM come about?
In the midst of the pandemic, I was talking to an entrepreneur friend from Lombardy who manages a technical gas company. He told me that he had sponsored the construction of the Covid-19 hospital in Milan, but that he was worried about the shortage of ventilators and the impossibility of finding them on international markets.
I therefore decided to make available my knowledge on technical gases and my international contacts in the world of advanced research (about 400 scientists) to find a solution.
Did you expect such cooperation from your fellow researchers?
Yes, I was counting on their passion for challenging projects and their sympathy in such a difficult time for everyone. Dozens of researchers from the largest physics laboratories and universities in Italy, Canada, the United States, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Poland and Germany: all at work, night and day, by our side, connected via the Internet.
I was amazed at the speed with which the Nobel Prize in Physics, Arthur McDonald of Queen’s University, and Professor Fernando Ferroni, of the Gran Sasso Science Institute, former president of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics, whom I’d like to thank yet again, espoused and supported the idea.
What contribution did the partner companies make?
In addition to the coordination and time devoted by the leading company (Elemaster), the contribution of the Camozzi Group, which provided the system of interconnected valves that ensures the management of the pressure cycle, in practice the heart of MVM, was significant. Camozzi Automation customized its solution according to the findings emerging from our laboratory flow tests.
The work of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics researchers, who coordinated the development of the electronics and designed the prototype of the board housing the micro-controller that controls the solenoid valves, the pressure and oxygen sensors, should also be mentioned.
Can you tell us a special episode of this adventure?
The US Air Force expressed interest in the MVM project. When we started the ventilator’s certification process with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some Air Force officers helped us get certified in record time.
In Afghanistan, six young female students recently invented a lung ventilator for local hospitals. Did you know about this initiative?
These brilliant girls used a different technology from ours. We will certainly study it in depth and try to contact them to express our admiration and see if there are any opportunities for cooperation.
What are your upcoming plans?
Based on the MVM experience we are planning to create a portable oxygen concentrator not specifically designed for Covid-19 cases, which can be used in ordinary clinical activities to improve the quality of life of people with chronic lung diseases. The Camozzi group, together with other partners in the “MVM consortium”, has already shown its willingness to cooperate in the development of a prototype.
I am also responsible for a scientific project that I care a lot about and which is in a crucial phase. The project Aria involves the construction of an innovative isotope separation system originally conceived for research on dark matter. Inside a mine shaft in Sulcis (Sardinia, Italy), a 350-meter high cryogenic distillation column will enable the production of stable enriched isotopes for medical diagnostics and for the development of innovative medicinal products.
From the conversion of the fossil-fuel industry, a centre of excellence is born that will also serve start-ups that use isotopes to transform them into proteins, vitamins and complex molecules.