New artificial lung closer to the real thing

As medical technology converges onto the nanoscale, it seems logical that scientists would figure out a way to improve on artificial lungs, which currently require patients to schlep heavy tanks of pure oxygen. A micro- and nanotechnology researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland led construction of an artificial lung that can store air, not pure oxygen, just like the real thing--and is much more portable.

Joe Potkay, a research assistant professor at Case Western, is lead author of a paper in the journal Lab on a Chip describing how the prototype was built, complete with the kind of precision found in nature--breathable silicone rubber versions of blood vessels that branch down to a diameter less than one-fourth the diameter of a 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 in a statement.

The team decided that evolution handled things pretty well without the need for any man-made improvements, so they created parts on the same scale as the natural lung. This improved oxygen exchange efficiency over current lung machines and let them use air rather than pure oxygen as the ventilating gas. The goal is to have a human-scale artificial lung in trials within a decade.

- read the release from Case Western