Aug 1, 2011

Breathe Easier With New Artificial Lungs

There's this old man who lives somewhere in my neighborhood and every few days I pass him on the street, usually coming out of the butcher shop.  There's nothing remarkable about this particular gentleman, nothing that makes him stand out other than the giant oxygen tank he drags behind him wherever he goes.

You see, artificial lungs suck.  First of all, their gas exchange rates are horribly inefficient, meaning they require pure oxygen in large amounts in order to function.  Thus the above-water scuba tank.  They're also large and require a mechanical pump to keep them going.  Long story short, artificial lungs = no fun.

But now researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have developed a prototype for a whole new kind of breather.  By utilizing layers of flexible silicone, they've been able to increase the gas exchange efficiency up to five times what current artificial lungs can achieve.  That means the lung can utilize normal atmospheric air, thus no more scuba tank.  Not only that, but this new design could potentially be made small enough to actually be implanted in the human body in place of the damaged lung, and would be powered not by a mechanical pump, but by the human heart itself.  Click over to Think for more details.

While the prototype has been tested with pig's blood, it's sadly still about a decade away from human trials.  Expect an increase in cigarette sales around the same time...

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