Artificial Lung Could Be Quick Fix Doctors Need While Considering Treatment

Mar 22, 2016

A new artificial lung could buy patients and doctors more time during life-threatening and cardiac-related emergencies.

Pittsburgh-based Cardiac Assist just received FDA approval for the respiratory device. Before that, the company created an artificial heart several years ago that’s been used more than 4,000 times worldwide. The artificial lung will hit the market within the next two months.

“They’re (doctors) looking for something they can implement quickly and they don’t always know the issue the patient is having,” said Cardiac Assist Chief Operating Officer Travis Deschamps. “They just need a solution that gets them through that first 24 hours.”

Deschamps said lung and heart problems can often be related, with heart-attack patients sometimes having trouble breathing. The new mechanical lung attaches directly to an artificial heart.

“The blood then goes through this device and you can see there’s all kinds of fibers wound together in here,” Deschamps said. “So we’re pumping oxygen through the fibers and the blood is rushing across the fibers, and that membrane acts as a diffusion membrane where oxygen can be passed into the blood and take the place of the patient’s own lungs.”

The circulatory support device is about 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, and works in tandem to temporarily stabilize patients.

“So it’s gonna be a bridge to, like, a heart transplant or a lung transplant, some kind of more definitive therapy,” Deschamps said.

The device is typically used on a patient for less than a week. Though, in one case, Deschamps said one of the company’s artificial lungs kept a patient alive for more than 190 days. Emergency experts said this kind of technology can dramatically improve a patient’s prognosis.

“So there is a need for this technology and it’s being utilized to save lives,” said Dr. Robert Kormos, a cardiothoracic surgeon from UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. “And in many of these circumstances it does save lives. There’s no question.”

Now that the FDA has given the green light, Cardiac Assist plans to market the artificial lungs quickly. The devices are manufactured right at the company’s RIDC Park headquarters.

“So we’re just ramping production now. We expect the first 40 to 50 units to be out our doors in the next month or two,” Deschamps said.

Both Allegheny Health System and UPMC said they’ll use the device.

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