New Artificial Lung Being Developed at Northwestern

October 03, 1996

New Artificial Lung

New Artificial Lung Being Developed At Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Researchers at Northwestern University are developing an artificial lung that can be implanted inside the chest cavity and attached directly to the artery connecting the heart to the lung.

The researchers have succeeded in preserving lung function in an animal model for 24 hours with the new device, intended primarily as a "bridge to transplant" for patients awaiting lung transplants and as a treatment for acute lung failure.

The implantable artificial lung contains a bundle of fibers that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. The "lung" is attached directly to the main pulmonary artery on the right side of the heart and returns the oxygenated blood to the left atrium of the heart. It can be adjusted so that a portion of the blood continues to circulate through the impaired natural lungs.

This marks the first 24-hour use of an implanted artificial lung in an animal model to date, according to Lyle F. Mockros, professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern's Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and one of the authors of a report published in the September-October issue of the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs Journal.

"The development of a successful, implantable artificial lung will increase the therapeutic options for children and adults with severe lung disease," said Constantine Mavroudis, M.D., professor of surgery at Northwestern University Medical School, who is supervising the tests.

"It's exceptionally well done," said Robert Bartlett, professor of surgery at the University of Michigan and a leading authority on the development of artificial lungs.

"They're leading the pack right now," Bartlett said, adding that there is very good cooperation among the five groups that are developing an implantable artificial lung, including his research team and those at Penn State Medical Center, the University of Pittsburgh, and in Salt Lake City.

The new device is called an implantable, intrathoracic artificial lung, or ITAL. It consists of a bundle of fibers with tiny holes that allow oxygen to move into the bloodstream and carbon dioxide to move back into the fibers. The devices are being implanted by Carl L. Backer, M.D., assistant professor of surgery.

Keith E. Cook, a graduate student in biomedical engineering and lead author of the journal article, was primarily responsible for designing the new ITAL, which he says is smaller and more compliant than previous designs. The new device has a much higher oxygen and carbon dioxide delivery rate, providing for the first time the full gas-transfer requirements for a person at rest, he added.

The artificial lung research is considered particularly urgent now because of the current success of lung transplant operations. Thousands of additional patients could benefit from lung transplants but do not have appropriately matched donor lungs available, and they die while waiting.

An estimated 13.4 million Americans have some form of chronic lung disease, with about 75,000 deaths per year. The only current treatment for end-stage lung failure is lung transplantation. An additional 150,000 Americans acquire acute respiratory distress syndrome each year, with a mortality rate of over 50 percent.

Other authors include Anthony J. Makarewicz, a research associate; Jose M. Hernandez, D.V.M., staff veterinarian; H. J. Przybylo, M.D., assistant professor of anesthesia; Susan E. Crawford, M.D., assistant professor of pathology; and Ronald J. Leonard of Sarns/3M Healthcare, Ann Arbor, Mich.

(Media Contact: Chris Chandler at (847) 491-3115 or by e-mail at

Northwestern University

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