German artificial lung device wins praise for saving lives

February 19th, 2008 - 9:21 am ICT by admin  

Hamburg, Feb 19 (DPA) A last-resort emergency artificial lung device is saving lives of US servicemen wounded in Iraq who have been air-lifted to Germany where the new apparatus is in widespread use. The device, produced by the German company NovaLung GmbH, has been used in Europe on more than 500 patients suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome, severe pneumonia, chest trauma, and chemical lung injury.

It is also being used successfully as a bridge for end-stage lung failure patients awaiting lung transplantation.

Half a dozen US troops have survived severe lung trauma caused by bomb blasts with the help of the machine. In all cases, the servicemen were airlifted to Germany, where they were transferred to German civilian hospitals for the emergency artificial lung procedure.

Spurred by those reports of last-minute life-saving success, US Army administrators have turned their attention to the device, which has not yet been approved for use in the US.

Roughly the size and shape of several CD cases stacked together, the device keeps people alive by performing the work of the lungs when they are too damaged to function properly.

Compact and transportable, the device is used by inserting a pair of heavy-gauge needles into the major blood vessels in a patient’s legs, allowing his heartbeat to push blood through a complicated membrane that filters carbon dioxide out of the blood and infuses cells with oxygen.

The blood is then circulated back into the body through the other leg.

The NovaLung device is in use in Germany and several other countries, including Britain and Canada.

In one headline making case in Toronto this past year, transplant surgeons successfully used the German artificial lung to keep a dying patient alive while they waited for donated lungs to become available.

The female patient was kept alive for two days until donor lungs were ready for transplantation.

Although the device has proved to be a lifesaver for US combat casualties, this was the first time it had been used in North America as a transplant bridge - a way to prolong the life of someone waiting for new lungs.

“This has taken lung transplantation and the number of patients we can save to a new height,” said Shaf Keshavjee, director of the lung transplant programme at Toronto General Hospital, where the life-saving procedure was carried out.

Keshavjee also cited the Novalung’s portability and low cost. The device is available for around $3,000, inexpensive by medical device standards.

“It’s very exciting. You’ve heard of artificial hearts. Lungs have really lagged behind because of the hurdles, the technical challenges and so on,” he said, referring to the complexity of lung function.

Just recently, the German device made headlines in the US when a wounded 23-year-old US army soldier’s condition was stabilised thanks to the NovaLung.

Suffering shrapnel wounds to his head in a suicide bombing in Iraq in November, the soldier was airlifted to Germany in critical condition.

In a coma from a ball-bearing sized piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain, his vital signs nonetheless stabilised after he was transferred to another hospital in Germany where doctors placed him on a NovaLung machine.

Thanks to the device, his condition stabilised enough that he could be airlifted back to America, where he has since opened his eyes and moved his head as he continues to show signs of improvement in Walter Reed Medical Centre.

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