A procedure unique to Northwestern could reduce long waiting lists for those who need lung transplants.
Dubbed “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 they have been extracted from the body. The organs are then connected to a machine that simulates the breathing of a human body.
The lungs can be seen inflating and deflating outside the chest, providing a better view for doctors examining organs for transplant.
Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine, explains that in some cases doctors have been able to repair and salvage donated lungs deemed “unsuitable” for transplantation before going through this procedure.
“We can take some of these organs that wouldn’t be used, we can repair them and transplant them to patients who otherwise wouldn’t get a transplant,” Bharat said. “This technology allows us to take these organs out of the human body, put them on this platform that simulates the human body. It allows us to fix these lungs [and] prepare them for a clinical transplant.
Why is this revolutionary?
Currently, doctors say more than 80% of donated lungs are thrown away every year. Thus, retrieving these organs could be vital in shortening waiting lists 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 from Waukegan, Illinois is reportedly recovering well at home.
Dr. Bharat predicts that up to 15% of lung transplants at Northwestern Medicine will use “lungs in a box” technology in the near future.
Ready to see the machine in action? Be sure to watch the clip above this article for a first look. Warning: some images are graphic.