Firm founded by U of T researchers to produce ventilators for COVID-19 patients

A company founded by two University of Toronto researchers will be manufacturing a portable ventilator that could help Canadian patients with COVID-19.

The portable intensive care unit, operated by battery power, has a ventilator and can perform vital signs monitoring, among other features.

Originally developed to treat members of the military who had been critically injured and were in need of transport, the technology will now be used to assist patients who need life support due to the current global pandemic, according to Dr. Joe Fisher, a professor in the department of anesthesiology and pain medicine at in the Faculty of Medicine and a staff anesthesiologist at Toronto General Hospital in the University Health Network (UHN).

“I think that this device has several roles in the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Fisher, who is co-founder of Thornhill Medical, which sells the device. “The first role is to help with a surge in supply – if you want to open up a new ICU bed, all you need is this and a stretcher, and you can do that.” 

Thornhill Medical was cited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a speech Friday morning that focused on Canadian innovators who will be helping in the fight against COVID-19, which now has more than 1,000 confirmed and presumptive cases across the country.

Fisher and Dr. Ludwik Fedorko, an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology and pain Medicine, founded Thornhill Medical in 2004, a spin-off of work done at U of T and UHN.

Fisher says his hope is that the device will provide life support and vital signs monitoring to those in dire circumstances.

“I think that its main function is to provide a compact platform to provide critical care. It may also provide back-up care when there is no electricity and when no oxygen is available,” says Fisher.

There are other important features, he says.

“This was also designed with transport of patients in mind – such as if you need intra-hospital transport, to take a patient from the ICU bed to CT scan or to the operating room. Right now, it’s extremely challenging to do that,” says Fisher, adding that it takes a significant amount of effort by staff to move a patient.

“This device is easily attached to a hospital bed or stretcher, provides all the ICU functions to the patient and you just roll out the bed and can move them. If the patient needs to be transported to another hospital, it simply fits into the ambulance at the patient’s side, continuing the same level of life support.”

Read more, Gabrielle Giroday