The University Record, July 1, 2002

Artificial lung showing promise, as need grows

By Kara Gavin
Health Systems Public Relations

An artificial implantable lung that uses tiny hollow fibers and the heart’s own pumping power to oxygenate blood is showing promise in pre-clinical studies and may reach clinical trials in about a year for lung failure patients awaiting a lung transplant. Meanwhile, a new survey of lung transplant program directors shows that such a device is badly needed.

U-M surgeon and life support pioneer Robert Bartlett developed the lung with colleagues from the U-M Health System (UMHS), the College of Engineering, the University of Texas, Northwestern University and MC3 Corp. of Ann Arbor.

The artificial lung attaches to the pulmonary artery, can be used inside or outside the body, and replaces 100 percent of lung function.

“This generation of long-term, bridge-to-transplant implantable artificial lungs is on the verge of reaching the patients who need it most, and have no other options,” says Bartlett, professor of surgery, director of critical care and head of the extracorporeal life support team at UMHS. “We’ve overcome the technical hurdles and now must confirm that it can truly take over for failing lungs for a longer time, and with less risk, than current life-support technology. As transplant program leaders tell us, we’ve never needed these devices more.”

More than 13 million Americans have chronic respiratory diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema, for which the only effective treatment is a lung transplant. But the shortage of donated lungs means that patients sick enough for a transplant wait an average of two years for an organ, and 80 percent die before receiving one. Currently, 4,000 Americans are waiting for a lung or heart-lung transplant, a number that rises sharply each year. About 1,000 lungs are transplanted in the U.S. each year, alone or in tandem with a heart transplant.

U-M researchers involved with the artificial lung project include Bartlett, pediatric surgeon Ronald Hirschl, surgery fellow Jonathan Haft and bioengineering professor James Grotberg. MC3 Corp. is run by two U-M bioengineering alumni, Scott Merz and Sean Chambers.

A $4.8 million, five-year grant from the new National Institutes of Health Institute of Biomedical Engineering will support further development of the device, as well as pre-clinical and clinical trials.