Artificial lungs to replace the lungs

Artificial lung mimics real organ functionsBS Reporter /  July 27, 2011, 0:21 IST

An artificial lung built by Cleveland researchers has accounted for functions akin to the genuine organ, while using air—not pure oxygen as current artificial lungs require.

While their use in humans is still years away, for the 200 million lung disease sufferers worldwide, the device is a major step towards an easily portable and implantable artificial lung, said Joe Potkay, a research assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western Reserve University. Potkay is the lead author of the paper describing the device and research in Lab on a Chip.
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To build the prototype device, the scientists followed the natural lung’s design and small dimensions. The artificial lung is filled with breathable silicone rubber versions of blood vessels that branch down to a diameter less than one-fourth the diameter of human hair. “Based on the performance of the current device, we estimate that a unit that could be used in humans would be about six inches by six inches by four inches, or about the volume of the human lung,” Potkay said.Current artificial lung systems require heavy tanks of oxygen, limiting their portability. Due to their inefficient oxygen exchange, they can be used only on patients at rest, and not while active. The lifetime of such a system is measured in days. By making the parts on the same scale as the natural lung, Potkay and his team were able to create a very large surface-area-to-volume ratio and shrink the distances for gas diffusion, compared to the current systems. Tests using pig blood show oxygen exchange efficiency is three to five times better, which enables these to use plain air, instead of pure oxygen as the ventilating gas.

Potkay’s team is now collaborating with researchers from Case Western Reserve’s departments of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering to develop a coating to prevent clogging in the narrow artificial capillaries and on construction techniques needed for a durable artificial lung large enough to test in rodent models of lung disease.

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