St. John's engineer designs ventilator to help developing countries battle COVID-19

·3 min read
Katie Stone recently took home first prize in the Genesis Centre Pitch and Pick competition, winning for her prototype ventilator called Aeolus. (Submitted by Katie Stone - image credit)
Katie Stone recently took home first prize in the Genesis Centre Pitch and Pick competition, winning for her prototype ventilator called Aeolus. (Submitted by Katie Stone - image credit)
Submitted by Katie Stone
Submitted by Katie Stone

A St. John's electrical engineering student has created a ventilator to help developing countries fight severe cases of COVID-19, taking top prize in a Memorial University competition for her work.

Katie Stone, 22, won the Genesis Centre's Pitch and Pick competition with the Aeolus Portable Ventilation System, a prototype that will hopefully provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional COVID-19 ventilators.

She said the project started as a capstone design project for her degree, along with work from partners Desiree Van Heerden and Rachel Tobin, but Stone decided to keep working on the project herself after graduation.

"At the time, the news was filled with headlines of there wasn't enough ventilators in Canada or the States. But there was also even a more dire situation in developing countries," Stone told CBC Radio's On The Go Friday. "At the beginning of the pandemic, there were 2,000 functional ventilators in 41 African countries. And even South Sudan only had one ventilator for the entire country.

"We had the goal for the capstone design project to help find a solution [to a problem] the world is facing, so we did that. And it was a really cool project, we learned a lot."

Submitted by Katie Stone
Submitted by Katie Stone

The ventilator's design is based on a traditional bag valve mask, a manual style ventilator powered by a compressing and expanding oxygen bag over a patient's mouth. While the average ventilator can range in price from $25,000 to $50,000, Stone said her's would only cost about $1,000.

"It does not have all the same bells and whistles… but it should get the job done in a pinch," she said.

"And that will hopefully try to bridge the gap to provide better quality care in developing countries and try to close that health inequality gap."

While the ventilator hasn't been tested as of yet, Stone said the win will help to continue development in the hopes of getting it nationally certified.

Stone said part of the inspiration for the project also came from time spent in Africa working with a tech company in Ghana for four months. While working on a project surrounding maternal health in Nigeria, she said she saw the gap in healthcare firsthand.

"I have to say, the results were quite shocking. It's a lot different than the maternal health that is present here in Canada, and it really made me think of how I can use my engineering degree to make some positive change," she said.

"I do think there's a clear avenue for engineering to be used for good, so that is kind of my goal with Aeolus."

Submitted by Katie Stone
Submitted by Katie Stone

She said the Genesis win came as a surprise, also locking up $1,500 and the community vote award from those in attendance. It means she'll be able to continue to strive to make the ventilator better, while also continuing to explore new opportunities in the field.

"Winning has been great, but the most important thing coming out of this is that I've had entrepreneurs in Newfoundland, across the island, reach out with just help or support [or] congratulations," she said.

"Having the opportunity to combine my want to enact positive change with just getting to explore… different technological advances and meeting with educated people, it really just is an encompassing journey of exactly what I want to do with my degree."

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