“When we saw the impending shortage of ventilators, we felt we needed to do something because we know how critical they are for patients with respiratory failure,” said Diana Barragan-Bradford, MD, a resident at the Boston institution. “We saw what was happening in places like Italy and Spain, where physicians were forced to pick who would receive lifesaving ventilation and who would not.”

As Dr. Barragan-Bradford explained, the goal of the CoVent-19 Challenge is to spur the development of minimally viable mechanical ventilators—that is, no bells and whistles, just fundamental capability—for patients with COVID-19-related lung injury that would be rapidly deployable. The challenge is an eight-week hackathon that launched on the GrabCAD Challenges platform on April 1.

In the first of the two-part challenge, participants have until May 1 to create CAD assemblies. Finalists then have between May 5 and 27 to create functional prototypes demonstrating acceptable performance of their designs. The winning design will be announced on June 1.

The way Dr. Barragan-Bradford and her colleagues see it, the CoVent-19 Challenge is much more than simply an exercise in design abilities.

Indeed, the challenge offers participants a platform of resources that will help streamline the winning design through prototyping, safety, and regulatory testing, manufacturing and distribution. Free design software also will be available throughout the challenge; experts in respiratory physiology, critical care and ventilator technology will provide guidance regarding safety, clinical requirements and technical requirements.

“Some people may want to participate as individuals, but others as teams,” Dr. Barragan-Bradford said. “For example, if I’m a clinician with great ideas, but don’t know how to actually build a ventilator, I can connect with people from different specialties who are looking for teams to design one. So, engineers, designers and makers can all find someone to work with.” A panel of technical and medical experts is also available to guide participants during the development of their ideas.

The organizers have also partnered with a series of companies with experience in manufacturing medical devices. These include 3D manufacturing and prototyping company Stratasys, as well as Ximedica, which offers more than 30 years of expertise in medical device design and manufacturing. Their combined efforts will help to move the winning device through the necessary safety and regulatory testing, thereby ensuring compliance with national and international standards.

“We’re also talking to government agencies and health care systems to see how we can bring this to reality. It’s important to us that we go through the proper regulatory processes because we want to make sure this is actually going to help and not hurt anyone.”

Although Dr. Barragan-Bradford recognized that companies around the world are currently ramping up production of mechanical ventilators, they believe the CoVent-19 Challenge will help address the deficits that are bound to continue globally, possibly for months to come.

This, they noted, is particularly important in low-resource areas, where obtaining standard mechanical ventilators may present a challenge.

“Ideally we’ll have these as soon as we can, so we can close the gap between the people that are going to need ventilators and the actual resources,” Dr. Barragan-Bradford said.