Thursday, March 26, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Unapproved device buys time for new pair of lungs

By
From page A7 | July 06, 2014 |

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jon Sacker was near death, too sick for doctors to attempt the double lung transplant he so desperately needed. His only chance: An experimental machine that essentially works like dialysis for the lungs.

But the device has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and there were none in the country. It would take an overnight race into Canada to retrieve a Hemolung.

Sacker rapidly improved as the device cleansed his blood of carbon dioxide — so much so that in mid-March, 20 days later, he got a transplant after all.

“That machine is a lifesaver,” Sacker said from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Sacker’s struggle highlights a critical void: There is no fully functioning artificial lung to buy time for someone awaiting a transplant, like patients who need a new heart can stay alive with an implanted heart pump or those with failing kidneys can turn to dialysis.

“It seems like it should be possible for the lung as well,” said Dr. Andrea Harabin of the National Institutes of Health.

NIH-funded researchers are working to develop wearable “respiratory assist devices” that could do the lungs’ two jobs — supplying oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide — without tethering patients to a bulky bedside machine.

It has proven challenging.

“The lung is an amazing organ for gas exchange. It’s not so easy to develop a mechanical device that can essentially replace the function of a lung,” said bioengineer William Federspiel of Pitt’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, who helped invent the bedside Hemolung and is working on these next-step devices.

So when Sacker needed an emergency fix, Dr. Christian Bermudez, UPMC’s chief of cardiothoracic transplants, gambled on the unapproved Hemolung. “We had no other options,” he said.

————

Cystic fibrosis destroyed Sacker’s own lungs. The Moore, Oklahoma, man received his first double lung transplant in 2012. He thrived until a severe infection last fall damaged his new lungs, spurring rejection. By February, he needed another transplant.

The odds were long. Donated lungs are in such short supply that only 1,923 transplants were performed last year, just 80 of them repeats, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Still, the Pittsburgh hospital, known for tackling tough cases, agreed to try — only to have Sacker, 33, arrive too debilitated for an operation. A ventilator was providing adequate oxygen. But carbon dioxide had built to toxic levels in his body.

When a ventilator isn’t enough, today’s recourse is a decades-old technology so difficult that only certain hospitals, including Pittsburgh, offer it. Called ECMO, it rests the lungs by draining blood from the body, oxygenating it and removing carbon dioxide, and then returning it. Sacker was too sick to try.

“I didn’t see any other alternative other than withdrawing support from this young man,” Bermudez said.

Then he remembered the Hemolung, invented by Pittsburgh engineering colleagues as an alternative to ECMO. It was designed to treat patients with a different lung disease, called COPD, during crises when their stiffened lungs retain too much carbon dioxide, Federspiel said.

The Hemolung recently was approved in Europe and Canada; its maker is planning the stricter U.S. testing required by FDA. For Sacker to become the first U.S. Hemolung patient, hospital safety officials would have to agree and notify FDA.

“We had actually just almost decided to turn the ventilator off, because we were putting him through suffering,” Sacker’s wife, Sallie, recalled. Then the phone rang: The experiment was on.

But Pittsburgh-based ALung Technologies Inc. couldn’t get a device shipped for a few days. Doctors feared Sacker wouldn’t live that long. Late at night, ALung CEO Peter DeComo tracked down a device in Toronto, and started driving. It took some explaining to get the unapproved medical device past U.S. border officials. But the next day, Sacker was hooked up, and quickly improved.

————

Federspiel, also an ALung co-founder, said researchers’ ultimate goal is a fully functioning, portable artificial lung.

Varieties under development consist of small bundles of hollow, permeable fibers. As blood pumps over the fibers, oxygen flows outside to the blood and carbon dioxide returns, explained Dr. Bartley Griffith of the University of Maryland. He has reported success in sheep, and hopes to begin the first human tests within three years.

The idea: Small tubes would connect the fiber device, worn around the waist, to blood vessels, so that patients could move around, keeping up their muscle strength instead of being restricted to bed.

There’s “at the least the inkling that we can dream of sending somebody home with an artificial lung,” Griffith said.

A bridge to transplant isn’t the only need, said Harabin of NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which is funding work by Griffith, Federspiel and others.

Thousands each year suffer acute lung failure from trauma or disease that hits too suddenly to even consider transplant. Researchers like Griffith want to test if these experimental technologies could offer them a better chance to heal than ventilators, which can further damage lungs.

————

Back in Pittsburgh, Sacker is slowly gaining strength with his second set of transplanted lungs. He doesn’t remember the fight for his life; he was sedated through it. But his wife has told him how touch and go it was.

“You get a call at the last second about a device that has never been used here in the United States — that’s a miracle,” he said.

————

By Lauran Neergaard, AP medical writer. AP Video Journalist Joseph Frederick contributed to this report.

 

Comments

comments

The Associated Press

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    CSU trustees name new president at Sac State

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1

     
    Stacie Frerichs named Jay Gerber Award recipient

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    UC Davis lung cancer surgery meets Twitter

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Summit searches for agricultural solutions

    By Felicia Alvarez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Silicon Valley gender discrimination lawsuit goes to jury

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Police call kidnap a hoax, now can’t find California woman

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Former Davis man gets 9-year term for sword attack

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Police still seeking owners of stolen bikes

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Bob Dunning: Everything has a price, or it should

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    Property-tax penalties kick in after April 10

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Child abuse conference returns to Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Arts Centers offers portrait-drawing class

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Parenting class meets Tuesdays

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Apply for library parcel tax exemption by June 1

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Posthumous video supports aid-in-dying bill

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    State Senate moves on $1 billion water plan

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

     
    .

    Forum

    This family seems lost

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Creating the university of the 21st Century

    By LInda Katehi | From Page: A8

    Farmers Market went hog-wild

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

     
    Trade deal deserves full scrutiny

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

    Novruz should become a holiday

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Sports

    Davis girls thrash Grant on the pitch

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD footballers to face Cal in 2019

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Blue Devil boys look great on the links

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Devils swimmers find wins against Franklin

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Late surge sends Sheldon softballers past DHS

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Youth soccer: Defense carries Davis Dilemma to a third-place finish

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Youth roundup: DART swimmers shine at national championships

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Devil boys win big on the tennis court

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12

    .

    Features

    Point of Brew: About the beer and bicycling universe

    By Michael Lewis | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Arts

    DMTC hosting its sixth annual poker tournament

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ makes for madcap evening

    By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Max Raabe returns with elegant songs from the ’20s and ’30s

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    Celebrate Rusty Jordan’s Life

    By Creator | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, March 26, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B9