New grant brings artificial lung – and Longevity – one step closer

New funding is propelling one US university along the fast track to artificial lungs – this could mean the difference between life and death for hundreds.

Funding from the National Institute of Health is putting the University of Michigan Medical School on the track towards an implantable artificial lung that will bridge the gap between needing a transplant and getting one [1].

Longevity.Technology: Failing organs spell bad news for long life – long transplant lists, recipient rejection and lack of donors mean that technology has to bridge the gap. We believe that bio-cybernetics will play a crucial role in answering the need for organs brought about by genetic disorders, diseases, accidents, lifestyle habits and senescence. Replacement organs that are designed and manufactured will avoid the issues of tissue rejection that accompany donated human organs and the worry of potential infection from animal viruses that occurs with xenotransplantation. 

The TRL score for this Longevity.Technology domain is currently set at: “Late proof of concept demonstrated in real-life conditions.”
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The TRL score for the technology addressed in this article is: “Late proof of concept demonstrated in real-life conditions.”

The demand for replacement lungs is growing; smoking rates are decreasing but remain high, an aging population, and the growing number of people living in cities with poor air quality means that donor lungs will remain in short supply. The UK NHS has warned that the number of people languishing on the lung transplant list has risen by 46% over the last five years and an aging population means that donated organs are less viable, adding to the pressure on the transplant list [2].

These challenges mean that providing a stopgap to allow more people to survive the wait for a donated organ is becoming even more critical – we have already covered this approach in the cardiac field. Using bio-cybernetic organs in this way, gives researchers access to data from in vivo testing, allowing them to refine the technology and pave the way for permanent replacement organs in the future.

The University of Michigan Medical School has received a $5 million five-year grant from US National Institutes of Health to allow it to test its implantable artificial lung in animals and prepare the prototype for clinical trials in humans. The principle investigator is emeritus professor of surgery, Dr Robert Bartlett, an artificial organ pioneer and the man behind the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation technique (ECMO) that has been used in intensive care units worldwide to treat patients with acute lung failure since its invention over 30 years ago.

In an official statement from University of Michigan Medical School, Dr Bartlett explained that the new artificial lung is based around using the patient’s actual heart as a pump, rather than relying on a mechanical one, and that work will now focus on refining the device into a final, usable, form. Actual clinical trials may only be three years away [3].

Dr Bartlett and his team, which includes James Grotberg and Joseph Bull at the School of Engineering Department of Bioengineering, are aware that any device needs to meet safety criteria and have a commerical future. Speaking to the Medical School’s Mary Beth Reilly, Dr Bartlett said: “Because these devices are prototypes, we make them one at a time. An important part of our research from this point forward is to have a device that satisfies the FDA and can be reproduced commercially so that it can be made exactly the same every time.”

According to a study by Zion Market Research, the artificial organ market is expected to grow by 9.1% compound annually to 2022 from $26.8bn (£20.3bn) in 2016 to $45.2bn (£34.2bn) by 2022 [4]. Bio-cybernetics is a promising area of Longevity research and development and one that we feel will occupy the space between the current state of cybernetic intervention and the promise of nanotechnology and cellular engineering.