Low-Tech Treatment Proves A Life-Saver In Research Breakthrough

A simple adjustment in the way patients receive breathing assistance from a mechanical ventilator has been shown to cut mortality 25 percent among victims of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a devastating, often fatal lung condition that affects about 150,000 Americans annually.

A three-year, nationwide clinical trial of the new ventilator treatment has been so successful that it has been stopped ahead of schedule to alert critical care specialists of the life-saving results, said Michael Matthay, M.D., professor of medicine and anesthesia at UC San Francisco and a principal investigator in the ten-city study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"This is the first major breakthrough in treatment of this devastating condition in 32 years," Matthay said. "It is very gratifying to see this progress. More patients die from ARDS each year than from breast cancer."

The successful treatment provided ARDS patients with smaller breaths of oxygen-rich air from a mechanical ventilator than had been conventionally used. Laboratory and pre-clinical animal studies had suggested that providing air in smaller volumes might protect the lung from injury.

"The reason these results are so exciting," Matthay said, "is that 40 to 60 percent of ARDS patients die, yet if we can save so many with this simple treatment, most of them can recover to lead perfectly normal lives."

Matthay, a senior scientist in UCSF's Cardiovascular Research Institute, has focused on mechanisms of lung injury and repair for more than 20 years. He directed the ventilator treatment for ARDS patients at UCSF Medical Center, part of UCSF Stanford Health Care. ARDS patients also participated in the study at UCSF-affiliated San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center (SFGHMC), under the direction of John Luce, M.D., a co-investigator of the study and UCSF professor of medicine and anesthesiology.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome often results from pneumonia or ot

Contact: Wallace Ravven
University of California - San Francisco

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