A unique procedure at Northwestern could cut down long waiting lists for those in need of a lung transplant.
Nicknamed “lungs in a box,” the ex-vivo lung perfusion procedure allows donated lungs to be examined for hours at a time on a machine – after being extracted from the body. The organs are then hooked up to a machine that simulates the breathing of a human body.
The lungs can be seen inflating and deflating outside of the chest, providing a better view for doctors examining the organs for transplantation.
Dr. Ankit Bharat, Chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine says in some cases, doctors have been able to repair and recover donated lungs that were deemed “unfit” for transplantation before going through this procedure.
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“We can take some of these organs that would not get utilized, we can repair them and transplant these to patients who would otherwise not get a transplant,” Bharat said. “This technology allows us to take those organs out of the human body, put it on this platform which simulates the human body. It allows us to repair those lungs [and] make them ready for clinical transplant.”
Why is this groundbreaking?
Right now, doctors say more than 80% of donated lungs are discarded every year. So, the recovery of these organs could be vital in shortening waitlists and increasing supply, with the potential to save lives.
Northwestern Medicine recently treated its first patient with this technology in January. The 65-year-old man from Waukegan, Illinois is said to be recovering well at home.
Dr. Bharat predicts up to 15% of lung transplants at Northwestern Medicine will use the “lungs in a box” technology in the near the future.
Ready to see the machine in action? Be sure to watch the clip above this article for a first look. Warning: some of the images are graphic.