Wearable lung offers hope to patients waiting for transplants


Several different plastics will be tested for possible use in a wearable blood pump and lung designed to provide respiratory support for patients awaiting transplants.

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New device uses several plastics. (Pitt)

"Our wearable lung will be designed to get patients up and moving within the hospital setting, which is important for both patient recovery and improving a patient's status prior to a lung transplant," said principal investigator William J. Federspiel, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Medical Devices Laboratory within the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine .

Federspiel told PlasticsToday that a variety of medical plastics will be used in prototypes for the devices, including polycarbonate, high molecular-weight polyethylene (HMWPE), polypropylene, and nylon. Siloxanes, which form the backbone of silicone, will also be used.

"This project will develop a compact respiratory assist device called the Paracorporeal Ambulatory Assist Lung—known as PAAL—to replace the old techniques," said Federspiel. "This is a wearable, fully integrated blood pump and lung designed to provide longer-term respiratory support up to one to three months while maintaining excellent blood compatibility."

The Pitt project complements earlier work done at the University of Maryland.

According to Federspiel, there are significant limitations to devices currently used to provide a bridge for patients with severe breathing difficulties. A technique called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (EMCO) limits patients' mobility, for example.

Participants in the project include William R. Wagner, director of the McGowan Institute; Christian Bermudez, assistant professor of surgery in Pitt's School of Medicine and associate director of the cardiothoracic transplant division at UPMC; James Antaki, professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University; and Greg Burgreen, associate research professor of surgery at Mississippi State University.

Federspiel also is a founder of Pittsburgh-based Alung Technologies , which is commercializing technologies for the $4.6 billion market for medical devices for the lung.  

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