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Formula One racing team helps develop breathing aid for COVID-19 patients

The devices are an alternative for ventilators which are in short supply around the world.

A team of mechanical engineers, medics and the Mercedes Formula One race team have adapted a breathing aid that can help keep COVID-19 patients out of intensive care. 

Mercedes F1 says the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) has already been used extensively in Italy and China to help COVID-19 patients with serious lung infections breathe easier.

Mercedes F1 says it was able to reverse engineer the device in less than 100 hours with help from the University College London and University College London Hospital. One hundred of the devices are headed to the hospital for clinical trials with the hope that thousands more can be rapidly produced before a mass influx of patients in the U.K.

One of the benefits of CPAP is that it allows patients to avoid using ventilators, which are more invasive. Ventilators are also in short supply in many countries, so this would provide an alternative.

It's not clear if, or how soon, these new devices could potentially make their way to the U.S. Hospitals have about 65,000 of the ventilators that are sophisticated enough to treat critical coronavirus patients. It could probably cobble together a total of 170,000, including simpler devices, to help with the crisis, one expert says.

Credit: AP
In this Friday, March 27, 2020 photo provided by UCLH a female volunteer demonstrates the use of a CPAP device at UCL Hospital in London.

A doctor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center estimates that 960,000 people in the U.S. will need to be on ventilators, which feed oxygen into the lungs of patients with severe respiratory problems through a tube inserted down the throat. Doctors hope social distancing will stop a huge number of people from getting sick simultaneously, flattening the curve of the illness so they can use one ventilator to treat multiple patients.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Credit: AP
In this Friday, March 27, 2020 photo provided by UCLH,University College London Hospital a view of a CPAP device at UCL Hospital in London.