ANN ARBOR (AP) – The University of Michigan is taking part in a clinical trial of a technique to keep lungs alive for days after death, greatly extending the possibility of transplanting them into a needy recipient.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month approved use of a new machine for use with human lungs for “humanitarian” cases.
It’s called the XVIVO Perfusion System, and doctors say they hope the $250,000 machine will be able to sustain lungs outside the body long enough to assess them for transplant.
“Outside the body, without blood and oxygen, those cells start deteriorating quickly,” Dr. Paul Lange, medical director of Gift of Life Michigan, a transplantation organization, told the Detroit Free Press. “I’ve been in medicine for years, and I still think it’s wild … almost science fiction.”
Gift of Life Michigan paid for the machine, housed at the university’s Extracorporeal Life Support Research Laboratory.
Lungs are particularly fragile, and only 20 percent of those tested now are found suitable for transplant. The machine could allow doctors to better determine whether lungs are viable for possible transplant use, rather than being forced to make a quick yes-or-no-decision.
“If I can take those lungs out for a test drive (and) spend four hours with them instead of 15 minutes, maybe we decide they really are usable,” said Dr. William Lynch, a University of Michigan transplant surgeon.
The hope is that lungs could be kept viable for long enough to match them with the best recipient.
According to the federal Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 1,900 lung transplants happened nationwide last year, and 354 patients died on the waiting list for lungs or became too sick to receive them. Seventy patients received lung transplants in Michigan.
Tom Prisco, a 46-year-old former autoworker, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2009, and doctors say his lung capacity has dwindled to 17 percent.
He said in a video interview with the Free Press that knowing someone would have to die so he can get new lungs “is not a fun thing to think about.”
Still, he said he was delighted to hear that a clinical trial was available through the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, which is working with the university on the project.
“Hey, sign me up,” Prisco said.
MORE AT GIFT OF LIFE.ORG
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