VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, April 26 -- A University of Pittsburgh researcher who has developed a device that functions like a temporary set of lungs told a group of heart and lung transplant surgeons today that such technology could have a tremendous impact for the nearly 750,000 patients with emphysema, chest trauma or acute respiratory distress, about 150,000 of whom die each year.
A potential application also exists for military personnel and civilians who may become victims of chemical warfare or terrorist attack involving toxic gases, he reported.
In an invited keynote lecture at the 21st Annual Meeting of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation, Brack Hattler, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said laboratory and animal studies suggest the device could do an adequate job of exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen in patients with compromised lungs, allowing the lungs to rest and heal.
"It's an alternative means of breathing," stated Dr. Hattler.
A clinical trial of the device, called the Hattler Respiratory Catheter, is expected to begin in Europe in about a year. It will be only the second time an implantable artificial lung has been tested in humans. About 10 years ago, clinical testing of another device was halted because the device's design did not allow for sufficient gas exchange. In general, progress to develop an artificial lung lags years behind that of the artificial kidney, liver and heart.
"The artificial lung especially has lingered behind progress with artificial hearts and ventricular assist devices, not because the need for lungs has not been recognized, but because we have not had a full understanding of the engineering problems and the unique material requirements until recent years," explained Dr. Hattler, who has devoted the past 14 years to the development of an artificial lung.