New Device Keeps Lungs ‘Alive’ Outside Body

For medical professionals responsible for carrying out organ transplants, time is a major issue. Now, in an effort to keep human lungs ‘alive’, experts are trying a radical new strategy.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are currently testing a new system that involves pumping oxygen into donated lungs. Here’s the trick: the lungs have already been removed from the donor but aren’t yet ready to deliver to the recipient.

The process, which is called “XVIVO Perfusion System” (or XPS), involves placing the lungs in a $250,000 device that closely replicates the human breathing experience. The hope is that XPS will allow doctors to keep lungs viable for transplant days after they are donated. Not only does that give the recipient time to get ready, but it allows doctors to determine if the new lungs will be a good fit.

“Outside the body, without blood and oxygen, those cells start deteriorating quickly,” noted Dr. Paul Lange, medical director at Gift of Life Michigan, which helped fund XPS’ development.

Right now the XPS machine has only been approved for patients with no other options. However, the U of M researchers hope it will soon become available to anyone and see a future where the device can be used to keep other types of organs viable for transplant.

In any case, XPS is generating an enormous amount of excitement in the medical community. “I’ve been in medicine for years, and I still think it’s wild,” Lange said. “[It’s] almost science fiction.”


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