Revolutionary artificial lung set to save thousands of lives
A NEW revolutionary device developed in Wales can “breathe” for people with diseased or damaged lungs.
Expected to save thousands of lives across the globe, the artificial lung is also on track to save the NHS millions of pounds.
The portable respiratory aid is the size of a glasses case. And it mimics the function of healthy lungs so it can treat people outside expensive intensive care units, freeing space for others.
Designed by hi-tech medical innovations firm Haemair, it can “breathe” for people with a range of life-threatening conditions such as infections or chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which both come under the umbrella term chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
Dr Steve Brown, senior engineer at Haemair, said yesterday: “There is urgent need for a device that will support life while patients recover from acute infections. If respiration could be supported without the lungs for just a few weeks, many infections would recover. Thus, people who currently die could go on to lead healthy lives.”
Wales with its long history of mining has one of the highest rates of COPD in the UK. Latest figures show 1,500 people died from the condition in 2006 with thousands more confined to beds or wheelchairs as a result of the debilitating condition.
The company, which is based at Swansea University’s Digital Technium, has now won an international award for the device. The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) Industry Award for Innovation and Excellence 2008 was presented to its researchers, the university announced yesterday.
Haemair is now working with Swansea University and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg (ABM) University NHS Trust to bring the device into hospitals.
It will begin clinical use next year and is eventually hoped to be a viable alternative to lung transplants. Other applications could include treatment of soldiers exposed to chemical and biological weapons making the military and defence sectors potential customers.
The artificial lung works by taking blood from the body then passing it through a mass exchange device consisting of thousands of hollow fibre membranes. Air is then passed through the tiny tubes and oxygen feeds into the patient’s blood stream while carbon dioxide is taken out of the blood.
The blood and air flows are controlled by a complex computer programme.
The 200g device has already notched up two national awards – the 2007 MediWales Award for Partnership with the NHS and the 2007 Technium Award for Most Innovative Company
A&E consultant Dr Adrian Evans heads the clinical haemorheology research laboratory at Morriston Hospital, which is using its expertise in handling blood to help develop the device.
He said: “This expertise is essential in developing devices that are in contact with blood without causing blood clotting. This is because any device that returns blood clots to the body can lead to complications and endanger the life of a patient.”
Haemair will initially develop external aids that support breathing while patients get better. Ultimately, the firm hopes to develop full artificial lungs capable of replacing diseased lungs altogether.
Dr Brown said: “The devices are aimed at both acute and chronic lung conditions. This is vital because although people can recover from acute infections, the only treatment for chronic lung failure is a transplant.
“Our treatment is based on a simple principle of not forcing diseased lungs to work harder. We believe this device will not only improve the quality of life for sufferers and avoid long-term lung damage, but will save lives.
“What’s more, this should help primary health providers save several thousand pounds per patient by taking patients out of intensive care or high dependency units and into general wards.”
Haemair researchers are also developing a second device. This will place the mass exchanger inside the human body, therefore eliminating the need for a blood pump and pump controller. In the longer term the device offers an alternative to complex lung transplants. Dr Brown said : “Such ‘on demand’ transplant opens up new areas of application, such as early treatment of lung cancer.”