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William J. Federspiel

 Respiratory Support Device To Be Evaluated For Possible Battlefield Use

PITTSBURGH, December 16, 2002 — Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are partnering with U.S. Army scientists to evaluate the merit of the experimental Hattler Respiratory Catheter for use in battlefield medicine – particularly as a possible treatment for lung injuries sustained in biochemical attacks.

Made up in part of a tightly bound fabric of microporous polypropylene hollow-fiber membranes, the catheter is inserted temporarily through a vein into the leg or neck and threaded into a major vein near the heart called the vena cava. Early tests show that it can substitute 40 percent to 60 percent of a patient’s compromised lung function.

Brack Hattler, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon and professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is Pittsburgh’s principal investigator for the two-year project, which includes close collaboration with U.S. Army scientists affiliated with the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, a major training center for combat physicians. The project is being funded by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense that is being shared by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

“What has been developed is a new way of treating lung failure,” said Dr. Hattler, who is also director of the artificial lung program at the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “Working in partnership with the military, academia and industry is a very exciting prospect – especially for our team of bioengineers led by Dr. William Federspiel.”

The newest phase of research is set to run through 2003 and 2004, said Lt. Col. Leopoldo C. Cancio, M.D., deputy for medical operations and development at the U.S. Army’s Institute of Surgical Research.

“Acute lung injury on the battlefield may take many forms, such as blunt or penetrating chest trauma, inhalation injury, blast injury or indirect lung injury secondary to infection or injury to another portion of the body,” added Lt. Col. Cancio.

“For 40 years, the only available treatment for significant lung injury has been a mechanical ventilator, which has its own risks and limitations,” said Dr. Hattler. “To work, a ventilator depends on the lining of the lungs being intact. But inhalation injury – whether the caustic agent is smoke or biochemical – damages this lining and makes the injury even more difficult to treat.”

Devices such as the Hattler Respiratory Catheter, which provides oxygen without the need for the lungs, “may improve outcome following acute lung injury by permitting a more gentle mechanical ventilation – or by permitting patients to remain off of a ventilator entirely,” said Lt. Col. Cancio. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) can have a mortality rate of 30 percent to 50 percent, according to Dr. Hattler.

Grants and appropriations from the U.S. Department of Defense to fund research toward the development of the Hattler Respiratory Catheter have totaled more than $7 million since 1994. Also known as the Intravenous Membrane Oxygenator (IMO), the experimental device was developed and patented by Dr. Hattler.

In the civilian population, ARDS can arise from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and other forms of respiratory illness.

The Hattler Respiratory Catheter is designed to support lung function for seven to 10 days during healing. The device will be manufactured and distributed by ALung Technologies Inc. of Pittsburgh.

“Research we are conducting could provide a low-tech, portable, rapid solution to these kinds of injuries,” said Dr. Hattler, adding that engineers from Pittsburgh will be temporarily assigned to the San Antonio facility during the experimental device’s preclinical testing phase.

The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine was launched in July 2001 to realize the vast potential of tissue engineering and other techniques aimed at repairing damaged or diseased tissues and organs. Established by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the McGowan Institute serves as a focal point for the university’s leading scientists and clinical faculty who are working to develop tissue engineering, cellular therapies, treatments for wound healing, synthetic blood additives, biosurgery and artificial and biohybrid organ devices.

The U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research is responsible for combat casualty care research. It develops new products for the care of injured servicemen and women and is a subordinate unit of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command at Fort Detrick, Md. In addition to its research mission, the institute operates the U.S. Army Burn Center as its clinical mission, and deploys expert burn-care teams to the field in response to military and civilian needs.

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