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New device could save lives of patients with lung failure

Two University of Kentucky doctors have invented a device that might save the lives of patients with severe lung failure.

The device helps patients get oxygen into their blood and carbon dioxide out. It's meant for patients who are too sick to be maintained on a ventilator, said Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger, chairman of UK's Department of Surgery.

"This is designed as temporary treatment for severe respiratory failure," Zwischenberger said.

It will help patients who are waiting for a lung transplant and those with severe pneumonia or other illnesses whose lungs need time to heal, Zwischenberger said.

The beauty of the product, called the Avalon Elite Bi-Caval Double Lumen Catheter, is that it removes blood from the body and pumps it back in using a single catheter.

"With this configuration, the blood that's going to the lungs is already oxygenated, so it's letting the lungs rest." said Robert Foster, CEO of Avalon Laboratories, the California company that manufactures the product.

Patients who are on the device will still be able to sit up, Zwischenberger said. His goal is to have them be able to walk around.

A similar treatment was available to children before, but it was inefficient, Zwischenberger said. It recirculated 20 percent of the deoxygenated blood, which is hard on the body.

In addition, surgeons often had trouble with kinking.

Dr. Jonathan Haft, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Michigan, said the device will be most useful for patients whose lungs are failing more quickly than a donated organ can be found for them. If these patients have to be put on a respirator, their health often deteriorates to a point that they are no longer good candidates for transplant.

"Nobody wants to transplant somebody on a respirator, because the results are worse," said Haft, who was not involved in the development of the product.

The device became available for use Thursday. It was approved by the Federal Drug Administration in October. Zwischenberger and Dr. Dongfang Wang, director of UK's Artificial Organ Laboratory, developed the device when they worked at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The device, which can be used only once, costs $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the size of the patient it's designed for, Foster said. It is used with an oxygenator and pump.

The University of Michigan and the University of Kentucky are among the 12 teaching hospitals where the catheter will be used this year. The company has not yet released the product to other hospitals.

Foster anticipates that more than 1,000 of the devices will be used in the first year and 5,000 in the second. His company spent three years and more than $10 million to bring the product to market, he said.