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Respiratory Assistance (Lung)

Respiratory Assistance at the McGowan Institute

The McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine is working on several devices that oxygenate blood before it arrives in the lungs. While mechanical ventilators can assist patients with breathing for short periods of time, they sometimes cause lung damage. In addition, they're not particularly portable.

Under the direction of McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member William Federspiel, PhD, the Medical Devices Laboratory is developing clinically significant devices for the treatment of pulmonary and cardiovascular ailments by utilizing engineering principles of fluid flow and mass transfer. Advancement of novel respiratory support devices is being conducted for the treatment of acute and acute-on-chronic lung failure. Also, medical devices utilizing membrane and particle based adsorption technologies for the removal of targeted solutes from whole blood is an ongoing effort which will aid in the treatment of pathogenic reactions.

Learn more about the University of Pittsburgh's Medical Devices Lab.

Examples of on-going respiratory assistance research projects within the Medical Devices Laboratory include:

  • Low Flow CO2 Removal PRAL to Hemolung: ALung is commercializing the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System (RAS), a dialysis-like alternative or supplement to mechanical ventilation originally developed at the University of Pittsburgh. The Hemolung RAS removes carbon dioxide and delivers oxygen directly to the blood, allowing the patient's lungs to rest and heal. A simple extracorporeal circuit, small venous catheter, and techniques similar to hemodialysis make the Hemolung RAS easy to use. ALung announced in 2017 it received IDE approval to conduct VENT-AVOID trial of the Hemolung RAS for the U.S. market for the treatment of adults with severe acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

    Learn more about the VENT-AVOID Trial of the Hemolung RAS.
  • Pittsburgh Ambulatory Assist Lung (PAAL): Researchers are working on the development of a wearable artificial lung for patients suffering from lung failure. The new device promises to deliver greater mobility and increased odds for survival following severe lung damage. The new unit takes less blood out of the patient to fill the tubing and the device. By doing that, one device could be used in three types of patients:
    1. Adults who need a low-flow CO2 removal device
    2. Adults who need a higher-flow oxygenation device
    3. Pediatric patients who need a high-flow device

    While there are only about 200 pediatric patients in the U.S. each year who need such devices, there are between 10,000 and 50,000 adult patients who need the higher-flow assistance. There are an additional 100,000 to 300,000 patients in the U.S. who need the CO2 removal devices.

    Learn more about the wearable artificial lung.

As these technologies mature, they will be available to physicians to assist in advanced lung care cases.

World Health Organization – Diseases of the Airways

Chronic respiratory diseases (CRDs) are diseases of the airways and other structures of the lung. Some of the most common are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, occupational lung diseases, and pulmonary hypertension. In addition to tobacco smoke, other risk factors include air pollution, occupational chemicals and dusts, and frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood. CRDs are not curable, however, various forms of treatment that help dilate major air passages and improve shortness of breath can help control symptoms and increase the quality of life for people with the disease. As noted by the World Health Organization:

  • >3 million people die each year from COPDs, an estimated 6% of all deaths worldwide
  • >90% of COPD deaths occur in low-income and middle-income countries
  • 235 million people suffer from asthma, a common disease among children

Read more.