A group of researchers have developed an artificial lung that functions similarly to the natural organ and can use air rather than purified oxygen.
Joseph Potkay, from Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center and a Research Assistant Professor in electrical engineering and computer science, led the project at Case Western Reserve University. The scientists developed a device that mimics the lung’s anatomy with breathable silicone rubber capillaries and alveoli that are less than a fourth of the diameter of a human hair. The implanted artificial lung would be driven by the heart. A unit that's efficient enough for use inside of a human would be about the same size as a natural lung (6 by 6 by 4 inches).
Current artificial lung technologies are extremely limiting as they require tanks of pure oxygen to function, they can only be used with a patient at rest due to poor oxygen exchange, and the system's half-life is measured in days. In tests using pig blood, Potkay’s was three to five times more efficient in oxygen exchange than other artificial lungs.
Potkay’s team is now working with Case Western Reserve's departments of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering to develop coating for the artificial blood vessels that would prevent blockages. The next phase of artificial lung testing will be done using rodent models of lung disease. The group expects that clinical trials of human-scale artificial lung will begin within a decade.
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