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Fellowship Recipient Helps Develop Low-Cost Ventilator

May 4, 2020

PCOM Georgia medical student Varun Yarabarla (DO ’21) serves as the development lead for VentLife by researching markets and submitting grant proposals.

Fellowship recipient and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine student Varun Yarabarla (DO ’21) has joined with 11 other engineers, physicians and innovators from across the country to develop a low-cost, novel ventilator for use during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The team members, who organized the nonprofit organization known as VentLife, plan to offer this technology to help save lives especially in settings with limited resources like developing nations, and for military field and national stockpile use during medical emergencies.

Headshot photograph of Varun Yarabarla (DO '21) wearing a suit.Yarabarla studied Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech in Atlanta prior to attending medical school. A former Fulbright Research Scholar, he was recently invited to participate in the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research (FAER) Medical Student Anesthesiology Research Fellowship.

This two month opportunity will be completed at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, in conjunction with the University of Washington School of Medicine. Yarabarla said, “I was awarded my number one choice for this competitive fellowship from an applicant pool of more than 300 medical students from across the country.” His fellowship research topic will involve the study of childhood traumatic brain injuries.

Yarabarla is currently serving as the development lead for VentLife. He was introduced to the VentLife team through a cardiologist whom he met during third-year clinical rotations in Jacksonville, Florida. He was also connected to one of the VentLife founders through the Fulbright Alumni Network.

His “well-rounded skills in engineering, entrepreneurship and medicine” earned him an invite to participate in the project, he said. “Having diverse knowledge really helped me give input across the board from product design to marketing and fundraising.”

As the development lead, Yarabarla researches where the product will best fit into the global marketplace, submits grant proposals for funding, and leads the team to participate in hackathons specifically developed for COVID-19. Hackathons are competitive events in which people work in groups on software or hardware projects with the goal of creating a functioning product.

Two weeks ago, the team won third place in Hack for Hope, an opportunity to address challenges created by COVID-19, earning $2,500. They participated in another hackathon last weekend called EUvsVirus, a pan-European hackathon which worked to connect innovators, partners and investors across Europe in order to develop solutions for coronavirus-related challenges. In addition, the VentLife team has been accepted into the University of Cincinnati Office of Innovation Venture Lab Pre-Accelerator Program.

Yarabarla noted that COVID-19 has reshaped how people think about health care. Just a short time ago, there was limited knowledge about national stockpiles of items like ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These are “no longer abstract concepts, but tangible necessities with impacts that can reverberate in our personal lives, impacting ourselves and those we love,” according to the VentLife website.

Low cost ventilators will also keep clinicians from triaging care. “We aim to provide lifesaving equipment to clinicians so they never need to make such choices again and so they can properly perform their jobs,” according to Yarabarla.

As the team continues work to secure funding, a functional prototype has been developed and manufacturing partners have been secured. In addition, VentLife has engaged with the US Food and Drug Administration and is proceeding with clinical and bench studies.

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