An ongoing clinical trial looking at a device designed to recondition lungs outside of the body could increase the numbers of donor organs available for transplants and potentially improve survival rates in the future, researchers say. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: These lungs are getting a makeover. When they were removed from a donor they weren't suitable for transplantation. But doctors hope 4 to 6 hours in this machine could rehabilitate them. This is an ex vivo lung perfusion machine otherwise known as 'the box'. SOUNDBITE (English) VARUN PURI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. SAYING: "It allows the lungs to stay alive as well as allows us as providers to assess the function of the organ in a unique well controlled environment." Michele Coleman credits the box with saving her life. An ex smoker, she was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, a lung disease with no cure SOUNDBITE (English) MICHELE COLEMAN, LUNG TRANSPLANT PATIENT, SAYING: "You don't want to but you kind of lose hope because when you are sick like that you know how fast you are going downhill. When I got the call in November I just thought 'you've got to be kidding me' because I never thought it would happen." What happened was Coleman's doctors asked if she wanted to participate in a clinical trial - explaining that she would receive donor lungs that needed to take an out of body detour for reconditioning before her transplant. SOUNDBITE (English) MICHELE COLEMAN, LUNG TRANSPLANT PATIENT, SAYING: "It's scary but anything that they could give me was going to be better than I had and actually I figured I wouldn't make it to the end of the year without some kind of lungs." The machine comprises a ventilator for breathing and a bypass machine to perfuse a drug-laden solution aimed at improving lung function. In many ways the device mimic's the human body but with one major difference. SOUNDBITE (English) VARUN PURI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. SAYING: "The lungs in the body are performing a function, they are providing oxygen to the body and they are removing carbon dioxide, they are performing gas exchange, thus there is some degree of stress on the lungs, when they are in the box or the circuit there is really no function they are expected to perform." And that gives them time to reboot and heal. The statistics of lung transplantation are grim. Less than 20 percent of donor lungs are currently considered suitable for transplant, and that's part of the reason why up to 25 percent of candidates die waiting for a transplant. After receiving donor lungs just over half will survive 5 years. The ex vivo lung machine addresses the first two stats by potentially increasing the donor pool and doctors say that with further research it could increase survival rates as well. SOUNDBITE (English) VARUN PURI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY. SAYING: "I am sure in the future we will be able to do things like gene therapy to the lungs in a controlled environment or utilizing specific anti-inflammatory agents to prevent short term and long term rejection of organs." As for Michele Coleman she's not overly concerned with statistics. So far, she's defied them.