TORONTO – An airway clearance device that uses acoustic sound waves to treat lung disorders and respiratory infections like cystic fibrosis (CF) is now being used to clear the lungs of patients suffering very badly from COVID-19. Developed by Montreal-based Dymedso Inc., more than 675 Frequencer acoustic devices currently being utilized across the world are assisting COVID-19 patients by removing mucous and secretions from their lungs and smaller airways.

"As sad as COVID-19 has been, one of the side effects was to put the spotlight on the need to be ready for respiratory diseases,” emergency physician and Dymedso chief scientific officer Simon Phaneuf told BioWorld. “I think the main areas of use in COVID-19 would be preventing patients from getting very sick or at the other end of the spectrum while intubating very sick patients, to clear their lungs and improve ventilation.”

The sound of no hands clapping

The Frequencer was the invention of Louis Plante, a patient with CF working in collaboration with a medical team from Sherbrooke University in Québec. CF produces mucus accumulation in the lungs and is commonly treated using chest physical therapy (Chest PT), an airway clearance technique for draining the lungs by clapping a person’s back or chest with a cupped hand quickly and rhythmically.

The Frequencer is a less intrusive, more targeted form of pulmonary physiotherapy to clear the airways and promote bronchial drainage, said Phaneuf. The device consists of a controller and speaker which delivers the shape and intensity of sound waves needed to “shake up” mucous in the lungs and smaller airways, he noted.

“It’s been demonstrated that 40 Hz is the frequency at which the smaller airway will resonate,” Phaneuf explained. “This will loosen the secretions and mucous inside so that the mucous loses its structural integrity and becomes more fluid.”

Conventional Chest PT is operator-dependent, Phaneuf added, with treatments never precisely the same from one therapist to another. In addition to standardized intensity and duration, the device can be used directly by patients, who will notice almost immediately what parts of the lung may need more focused treatment “and adjust the Frequencer accordingly,” said Phaneuf.

The device is particularly useful in home and health care facility settings that include hospitals, long-term care centers, private senior residences and rehabilitation centers, Phaneuf added.

Of use at home and abroad

This month health care institutions in the Province of Québec were told their patients may now benefit from the Frequencer’s use treating respiratory disorders during lung transplants and neonatal care, for example, but also COVID-19. The government purchased twenty-four machines for twelve hospitals and other facilities, units normally retailing at between US$15,000 and US$19,000.

Cleared by Health Canada and the U.S. FDA, the device is also CE marked. And while not decisively proven effective for COVID-19 through controlled clinical studies, more than 675 units deployed across the world prior to the pandemic are assisting airway mucous and secretion removal in patients with COVID-19.

“We have case reports that it’s being used mostly in very sick patients with COVID-19, along with several other modalities,” said Phaneuf. “The treatment takes about twenty minutes so that clinicians can see the response right away, monitoring patient parameters like oxygen saturation and ventilation to see how the patient is doing.”

Phaneuf said he wants to see all medical institutions equip themselves with the device's advanced technology, constantly improving treatments for COVID-19 that will be useful long after the pandemic has been contained.

“There’s a real need for a device specifically targeting the smaller airways, such as the Frequencer,” Phaneuf said. “Because once we need to intubate the patient, the prognosis becomes grim. It’s much better not to get to that point.”