Stanford researchers lead effort to build rapid-response ventilators

An effort to design and build simplified ventilators for patients with severe cases of COVID-19 is being led by researchers at Stanford.

- By Hanae Armitage

A rendering of the ventilator being designed and built by researchers at Stanford Medicine, the Stanford School of Engineering, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub and 219 Design.
Camarillo lab

In normal times, David Camarillo, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford, researches ways to prevent concussions. In the thick of the COVID-19 crisis, however, he’s put aside that effort and taken on a new project: building ventilators, with the support of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

Severely ill patients with COVID-19, whose lungs have been damaged due to the virus, require ventilators — machines that mechanically “breathe” for them — to stay alive. In regions hit hard by the virus, that resource has been in notoriously low supply. Camarillo and his collaborators  have undertaken a project to replenish ventilator supplies by building simplified, streamlined versions of the machines that require fewer parts and less time to make.

As cases of COVID-19 were increasing worldwide, Camarillo took the idea of building ventilators to members of his lab: “The world is in need. We’re medical device researchers, and we’re nimble. What do you think of starting a new project?”

One week later, the team — which by that point included Sam Raymond, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in Camarillo’s lab; Ryan Van Wert, MD, clinical assistant professor of pulmonary, allergy and critical care medicine; and engineers at 219 Design — sprang into action, designing and building a prototype of a simplified ventilator. Even in the early stages, Camarillo said, their pared-down machine carried out the same key functions as that of a conventional ventilator — that is, it pulled a specific, measured amount of air out of the lungs, and pushed new air back in. Now, the team is continuing to build more simplified ventilators and extensively test them in a mechanical lung— part of a necessary protocol, per the Food and Drug Administration — before use in humans.

Soon, the researchers will file for emergency-use authorization from the FDA, which they hope will allow for rapid deployment of the devices. Pending a green light, they hope to work with manufacturers that can help scale the assembly process and send the machines to the regions that need them most. Anyone who would like to get involved or learn more about the effort can visit or email the team at

Camarillo emphasizes that their simplified ventilators are not a replacement for conventional ventilators, which are the gold standard for treatment.

“What we’re creating is for times when resources are scarce — a lifeline to hospitals that’ve run out of the resources they need to care for patients critically ill with COVID-19,” he said.

This project received initial funding from the UCSF-Stanford Pediatric Device Consortium

Stanford’s Department of Bioengineering is jointly managed by the Stanford School of Medicine and Stanford School of Engineering.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

2023 ISSUE 3

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