Wearable ‘lung’ might be a bridge to transplant
Scientists with the VA are developing a prototype of a 3D-printed lung that they believe could revolutionize the treatment of veterans affected by lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).
Joseph Potkay, a biomedical engineer at the VA Ann Arbor (Mich.) Health Care System, is leading the research into what he and his team call the first wearable artificial lung that is compatible with living tissue and is capable of short- and long-term respiratory support.
This is the first time high-resolution, 3D polymer printing is being used to create microfluidic lungs with three-dimensional blood flow networks, according to Potkay, also a University of Michigan researcher. This new class of artificial lungs better mimics the structure of the natural lung than its predecessors, with tiny blood channels closer in shape and dimension to those in a person, allowing for blood flow similar to that in the human body. Biocompatible coatings on the microfluidic lung’s surface will curtail the immune response (hardening and clotting) created when blood comes into contact with an artificial surface, they added.
“We hope that these microfluidic flow paths and biocompatible coatings will be more compatible with living tissue, thereby reducing the body’s immune response and increasing the lifetime of the device,” Potkay said in a statement from the VA. “The flexibility in design afforded by 3D printing gives us more freedom and thus the ease to build artificial lungs with a small size and pressure drops that are compatible for operation with the body’s natural pressures.”
Potkay’s team is working with high-resolution 3D printing company Old World Labs (Hampton, Va.) to develop a small-scale, functional prototype in the coming months.
The 3D-printed human-scale lung would initially be used as a temporary device to help patients awaiting a lung transplant or as an aid for those whose lungs are healing. Potkay envisions it fitting in a backpack or a small fanny pack. After more development, he expects longer-term use will be possible.