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3D-printed medical valves are helping the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy

(TECH NEWS) 3D printing came to the rescue in Brescia while the COVID-19 began to take affect. 3 companies banded together to recreate life saving medical valves.

3D printing tools used in the automotive industry.

Advancements in 3D printing have blown my mind. If you can draw it, they can print anything, even houses. Who knew 3D printing would become a contributor in the fight against COVID-19. This global pandemic has sent people around the world into hiding, AKA social distancing.

Three Italian 3D printing companies have come together to make valves for a specific ventilator, the Venturi Oxygen Mask. Their quick actions have helped save lives in Italy. If more companies like theirs come together in this effort, more lives will no doubt be saved.

We are behind the curve in flattening the coronavirus curve in the U.S., like Italy was a month ago. We’ve learned what an unsustainable situation this is, because the hospitals and clinics cannot keep up with testing and treatment. The rate of community spread in northern Italy and the number of critical cases quickly surpassed the availability of necessary, life-saving equipment–specifically a ventilator valve.

These valves are vital to running the Venturi Oxygen Masks. Patients who’d lost the ability to breathe for themselves in the late stages of COVID-19 infection need these masks or similar devices to survive. In an unfortunate twist, the supply chain for the valves originated in factories that COVID-19 had shut down for weeks prior to the crisis reaching northern Italy.

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By last week, northern Italian city, Brescia, had been overrun by critical care patients by last Friday, March 13. ICUs overflowed with patients in dire need. The shortage of valves likely meant more deaths that could have been prevented. According to reports, one fast-thinking journalist, Nunzia Vallini, editor of the Giornale di Brescia, realized this.

Vallini reached out to Massimo Temporelli, founder of FabLab in Milan, asking if FabLab could replicate the valve through 3D printing. help respond to the shortage of valves. Temporelli in turn reached out to founder Cristian Fracassi of 3D printing company Isinnova, in Brescia itself.

Despite Venturi allegedly refusing to share the valve design, Fracassi set up his 3D printer at the hospital and soon had reverse engineered the essential valve. When they tested it and realized it would work, Fracassi and Isinnova set to work making valves. They also reached out to another Italian 3D printing company, Lonati, who also pitched in to produce more valves.

The three Italian companies have given these valves to the hospitals in the effort to fight the virus and save lives. None of them have the legal right to sell the valves, which are protected under copyright and patent law. However, in an urgent situation such as the one in Brescia, the hospital and the 3D printing companies have the right to create these parts to meet the desperate need.

Now that these Italian 3D printing companies have joined forces in the fight against the nasty COVID-19, one can only hope that more innovation will come from this meeting of minds. Worldwide, the mantra is becoming “Do whatever it takes” to slow down, and eventually stop the rapid, deadly trajectory of the novel coronavirus of 2019.

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I thought printing tiny homes for the homeless, like Austin company ICON is doing, would be the pinnacle of 3D printing. I was wrong. I’m eager to see where this new path of 3D printing takes us. What a wonderful, terrible time to be alive.

Hopefully Venturi will step up and make the original design available to other 3D printing companies. COVID-19 won’t wait. I’m grateful to these super smart humans designing medical equipment and 3D printers, to Nunzia Vallini, and to the healthcare professionals who are in the trenches. They give us hope and inspiration.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

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