UTSA engineers create innovative breathing tube in effort to battle COVID-19 in future

UTSA engineers say new design could reduce long term damage and streamline intubation for healthcare workers

SAN ANTONIO – With the spread of the novel coronavirus, a group of UTSA engineers set out to solve a problem in the medical community and try to help people who become infected with COVID-19 in the future.

“Airway management in general is a sector of medicine that really isn’t received as much attention,” said Dr. Lyle Hood. “But there’s been a problem for some time, particularly when it comes to first responders and combat medics.”

Hood, fellow UTSA professor Dr. David Restrepo and research assistant David Berard teamed up to develop a new breathing tube for ventilators that can solve some of the issues linked to airway management.

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Many COVID-19 patients have been intubated and placed on ventilators to battle the virus. The group says the breathing tube would reduce damage from long-term ventilation.

“The tissues in the trachea are pretty sensitive, especially to high pressure as it restricts blood flow. That causes tissue damage, tissue death,” said Berard. “If you have the patient with a whole bunch of pressure for hours and hours at a time, as we’re seeing now, that causes very severe complications.”

Before the pandemic, the group was already working on the 3D-printed device to help soldiers in the field who needed to be intubated during an emergency. The need for ventilators during this crisis brought the issue to the forefront.

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“Now we’re getting these patients with COVID-19,” said Restrepo. “Intubation is becoming very difficult, even for those trained in the emergency room.”

The tube was also designed with first responders in mind to make it easier for a medical worker to insert it into someones throat and reduce their exposure to a virus.

“It’s very difficult procedure,” said Hood. “It’s tricky and when somebody really needs to breathe, there’s not a lot of time.”

The team says this device is one-size fits all and would eliminate the need of multiple size breathing tubes. They also believe the innovation is overdue.

“We are also trying to facilitate that process so more people can use it and it becomes more intuitive,” said Restrepo.

(Breathing tube Image provided by UTSA)

“If you look up the patents and the devices in the 1940s, they look exactly like the ones that we use today except they’re made of rubber,” said Hood.

Hood said funding for for the work was provided by the San Antonio Medical Foundation and a team of engineers and students have assisted with the project.

“This was already a San Antonio city effort to get the projects to where it has been so far and we’ve been very grateful for the support that we’ve received,” said Hood.

The team is working with UT-Health San Antonio and the US Army Institute for Surgical Research to get the breathing tube to clinical trials. They are currently testing the tube on mannequins.

(Breathing tube Image provided by UTSA)

“We’ve received a ton of positive support from the medical community that understands that this is a real issue and that really needs innovation and improvement,” said Hood.

COVID-19 shows no immediate signs of going away without a vaccine. New innovations and changes in the way we treat patients could mean the difference between life and death.

“We have the tools. The need is there. Why not make a contribution that can help that society?” said Restrepo.

“It’s encouraging knowing that my work is going to go into helping these people,” said Berard. “There is going to be a long term benefit and use of the work.”

About the Authors

RJ Marquez is the traffic anchor/reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He also fills in as a news anchor and has covered stories from breaking news and Fiesta to Spurs championships and high school sports. RJ started at KSAT in 2010. He is proud to serve our viewers and be a part of the culture and community that makes San Antonio great.

Rick Medina is a Video News Editor at KSAT. A graduate of the University of Texas' prestigious Radio-Television-Film program, he has been in the news business for more than 20 years. Rick is also a documentary filmmaker, helming the award-winning film festival favorites, “The Opossum Begins” and “Amigoland.” He is originally from Brownsville.

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