On a mission to create artificial lungs

Researchers working to develop therapeutic device using O2 mircrobubbles to aid soldiers

Published: 09th June 2016 04:57 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th June 2016 09:26 AM   |  A+A-

CHENNAI: ON the war front or at high altitudes, soldiers often suffer from acute hypoxia and respiratory distress syndrome due to injury to lungs which blocks oxygen supply to brain and the tissues resulting in death. To address this critical issue, researchers at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), United States, have embarked on a novel initiative of developing a therapeutic device that helps create an artificial lung in peritoneal cavity in the abdominal area.

The researchers are using oxygen microbubbles as material to do the job of dysfunctional lungs. These microbubbles contain 70% oxygen and 30% saline. Though the research is in a preliminary stage, initial experiments on small animals like rats and rabbits have delivered desired results.

Dr Benjamin Terry, visiting faulty at UNL, heading the project, told Express on the sidelines of a lecture at Department of Mechanical Engineering in IIT Madras, that the therapeutic device has potential to save many lives. “More experiments on smaller animals are being conducted at UNL and next we proceed to experiments on larger animals like pigs before trying out on humans. It may take another 3-4 years.”

IIT-M professor PV Manivannan, an expert in developing electronic control systems and sensors for bio-medical devices, said IIT Madras would assist the project, if needed, at later stages. “We are already collaborating with Dr Terry on other projects like developing Microcapsules and our students have spent three months in US on the project.”

Dr Terry said the method is an alternative extraplumonary oxygenation therapy for patients with acute hypoxia. However, it’s only a temporary arrangement. For instance, if a soldier is down with injured lungs and is falling short of oxygen then paramedics can infuse the oxygen microbubbles into peritoneal cavity to keep the soldier alive for at least 40 minutes, enough to move him to the base camp. The microbubbles would be absorbed by the tissues since they replicate the small oxygen spores in the lung.

Prof Mark Borden of University of Colorado is making the oxygen microbubbles. Another unique thing about this material is they are portable and comes in the form of powder, which can be re-hydrated into fluid on the field.   

Acute hypoxia

What is acute hypoxia?

Acute hypoxia is a sudden or rapid depletion in available oxygen at the tissue level. This may result from asphyxia, airway obstruction, acute hemorrhage, blockage of alveoli by edema or infectious exudate, or abrupt cardiorespiratory failure

How is it different?

It circulates oxygen microbubbles through the peritoneal cavity in the patient’s abdomen, to deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.

Third lung?

These oxygen-filled microbubbles deliver oxygen for 40 minutes with a single injection. This prevents heart attacks and brain damage besides giving time for the lung to recover.

How safe is it?

O2 is delivered to the body’s vasculature by natural diffusion. Preliminary experiments show there are no side effects.


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