Doctors can already support a patients own lungs in order to help oxygenate their blood using a mechanical ventilator
Conditions for which this is used include:
- Acute lung injury (including ARDS, trauma)
- Apnea with respiratory arrest, including cases from intoxication
- Acute severe asthma, requiring intubation
- Acute on chronic respiratory acidosis most commonly with Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and obesity hypoventilation syndrome
- Hypotension including sepsis, shock, congestive heart failure
*for a full listing go to the Wikipaedia page on mechanical ventilation
In general these machines are used for a short time until the patients breathing recovers. As the image above shows the machine is large and the patient is largely confined to bed for the duration of the treatment. This is tolerable for short term treatment but difficult for longer term illnesses such as
An article in New Scientist magazine describes the work under way to produce much smaller, portable artificial lungs that can be carried around in a backpack. A version is already being successfully tested in sheep though these still need concentrated oxygen in the form of a cylinder of gas so are not totally unhindered! Work is under way to eliminate the cylinder.
Once established and refined it might not be a big step to support the breathing of patients as they go about their daily lives. Treatment for people who have serious lung conditions may be able to proceed while their artificial lungs do their breathing! This might enable a whle new generation of treatment strategies for people with seriously damaged lungs such as some of those with chronic pulmonary aspergillosis.