In an interview with SciTechNow, Biomedical Engineering Professor Keith Cook discussed advances in artificial lung use and technology. Around 2,000 lung transplants occur yearly in the United States. But if a patient needs a transplant, she requires long-term respiratory support. Cook notes that, unfortunately, “most patients don’t even make it onto the waiting list” for a donor lung. To meet transplantation needs, he and the Bioengineered Organs Initiative are developing efficient and reliable artificial lungs.
Since the first oxygenators of the 1960s, artificial lung design has seldom changed. Long-term respiratory support relies on a model meant to support patients only for the durations of surgeries. The old model also presents two intertwined problems: clot formation and device longevity. The artificial alveoli are densely packed, causing clotting, which then slows circulation. This then detracts from longevity. Cook notes that the “current devices fail within weeks.”
Cook and the Bioengineered Organs Initative overcome these challenges in several ways. Their design lasts for months by generously spacing artificial alveoli and carefully routing circulation. These reduce clotting and eddied or halted circulation. Cook also uses biomaterial approaches and pharmaceutical methods to inform the design. The utility of these designs is still limited to a few years. Tissue-based designs, on the other hand, could self-regenerate for a lifetime. Biomaterial devices are within five years of production, while tissue-based would be within 15-20.