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Researchers Aim to Create a Portable Artificial Lung

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   February 17, 2022

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is joining forces with Carnegie Mellon University and Cornell University on a Defense Department-funded project to create an artificial lung that can be used by patients at home.

Three universities are joining forces to develop an artificial lung platform that can be used by patients at home.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Carnegie Mellon University and Cornell University are sharing a four-year, $87 million grant from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) to create the platform, which would allow patients with incurable lung disease who can’t wait for a lung transplant or who aren’t viable candidates.

“The need for helping people with chronic lung disease is just so apparent, because it’s literally millions,” Matthew Bacchetta, MD, MBA, MA, a professor of surgery and adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt who’s leading that research team, said in a press release issued by the university. “Transplant is obviously the only outlet for those patients. If you can’t get a transplant, you are stuck living with chronic lung disease. The need is quite great, and there is little out there that addresses it.”

The portable device would take the place of ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) system, a platform housed in a hospital’s ICU that can temporarily takes over the functions of the body’s heart and lungs.

More than 12 million people suffer from chronic lung disease, often in the form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The Defense Department is spearheading the research because veterans are roughly three times more likely to develop COPD.

Vanderbilt’s team will focus on designing and testing the modes of vascular access and the ergonomics of the device as well as developing the gas exchange mechanism. The Cornell team will work on coating technology to make the platform more biocompatible. The Carnegie Mellon team will work with the Vanderbilt group on the gas exchange mechanism and develop the telemedicine platform that will allow patients to use the device at home while being monitored by caregivers.

“The intent is that this could potentially be used for years,” Bacchetta said in the press release. “It’s a very different design approach from ECMO, [which] is temporary and limited to an ICU setting. That’s not our design intent. We’ve completely erased that drawing board and created a new drawing board that is focused on management of chronic lung disease in a durable and enduring fashion, really as a destination therapy.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation at HealthLeaders.

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