Jul 272011
 
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Small Device Works With Air, Pure Oxygen Not Needed

An artificial lung built by Cleveland researchers has reached efficiencies akin to the genuine organ, using air — not pure oxygen as current human-made lungs require — for the source of the essential element.

Use in humans is still years away, but for the 200 million lung disease sufferers worldwide, the device is a major step toward creating an easily portable and implantable artificial lung, said Joe Potkay, a research assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western Reserve University. Potkay is the lead author of the paper describing the device and research, in the journal Lab on a Chip.

The scientists built the prototype device by following the natural lung’s design and tiny dimensions. The artificial lung is filled with breathable silicone rubber versions of blood vessels that branch down to a diameter less than one-fourth the diameter of human hair.

“Based on current device performance, we estimate that a unit that could be used in humans would be about 6 inches by 6 inches by 4 inches tall, or about the volume of the human lung. In addition, the device could be driven by the heart and would not require a mechanical pump,” Potkay said.

Current artificial lung systems require heavy tanks of oxygen, limiting their portability. Due to their inefficient oxygen exchange, they can be used only on patients at rest, and not while active. And, the lifetime of the system is measured in days.

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