Keith Cook, PhD (top) and Jana Kainerstorfer, PhDMore than 16 million Americans suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), with veterans being 1.5 to 3 times more likely to develop COPD versus the general population. Across the board, COPD patients experience a gradual decline in respiratory function along with acute exacerbations that lead to a transient, but dangerous, worsening of their disease state. Each year in the U.S. alone, COPD patients account for two million emergency room visits, 700,000 hospital discharges, and 156,000 deaths.

An interdisciplinary team led by McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Keith Cook, PhD (pictured top), Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) biomedical engineering professor and department head, has been awarded $8.7 million dollars from the U.S. Army Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) program to create and integrate new technologies to sustain permanent at-home artificial lung support. Such advances will allow chronic lung disease patients to lead more normal lives in which they feel comfortable engaging in everyday activities, such as walking or driving.

One of Dr. Cook’s collaborators is McGowan Institute affiliated faculty member Jana Kainerstorfer, PhD (pictured bottom), CMU associate professor of biomedical engineering. Dr. Cook and his team are building a novel Pulmonary Assist System (PAS) that will enable long-term, ambulatory respiratory support for COPD patients. The PAS weighs in under three pounds and consists of a small, lightweight axial flow pump coupled with a compact, highly biocompatible gas exchanger. To date, long-term respiratory support has not been performed outside the intensive care unit (ICU); however, the group is focused on developing supporting technologies that will allow for safe, uncomplicated support for COPD patients outside of the ICU.

“Respiratory support requires a means of drug delivery and patient and artificial lung monitoring that are not possible on a regular hospital floor, and definitely not possible at home,” explained Dr. Cook. “We are developing different drug regimens, new drugs, and new monitoring systems to enhance patient care and overall quality of life.”

As part of the funded work, there are four interconnected projects. They include the development of more stable anticoagulation strategies to support the PAS outside of the ICU, new surgical methods that allow a patient freedom of movement on the artificial lung, and enhanced remote monitoring technologies.

“Monitoring of device performance is crucial for at-home artificial lung support to enable early intervention in case of device failure,” said Dr. Kainerstorfer. “We are developing the technology to monitor, for instance, blood oxygenation, a crucial parameter of device performance.”

Fruit from these efforts stand to offer hope and practical solutions for chronic lung patients, explained Dr. Cook. “The reality is that there just aren’t enough lung transplants for all the people who need them. Even if someone does receive a transplant, the chances are that within five years that lung transplant will fail. Our work in developing alternative treatment technologies that allow chronic lung patients to maintain their quality of life is a huge win.”

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Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering News Release