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New Lung Transplant System could Save more Lungs

Update Date: Nov 18, 2013 01:29 PM EST

For people who need an organ, waiting on the transplant list could take forever. Some patients might never get an organ due to the limited amount of organs available. Due to the issues with these transplant lists, Dr. Thomas Egan from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill headed a project to see if his research team can save the lungs from organ donors who die at home as opposed to the hospital setting.

"There aren't enough lungs. We're burying them," said Dr. Thomas Egan of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who is leading the project. "It turns out your lungs don't die when you do."

Since lungs do not die immediately with the rest of the body, Egan's team created a method of extracting the lungs from a deceased organ donor and keeping them alive for someone who needs them. The new system includes a series of steps that people must take in order to remove the lungs and check their viability. First, when someone collapses due to cardiac arrest, the emergency workers who are at the scene must try their hardest to revive the person. If the workers are unsuccessful, they can check the victim's driver's license to see if he or she was listed as an organ donor. If so, the local organ recovery agency has to call the next of kin and ask the kin for permission to take the deceased's lungs for Egan's research trial.

If all of these steps were accomplished in under an hour, the emergency workers will start pumping air into the lungs to keep them alive until the body has been brought to a hospital's operating table. Here, doctors will remove the lungs and transfer them to Egan's lab. At his lab, the lungs get tested to see if they are healthy. First, a ventilator is used to slowly fill the lungs. The lungs then go through ex vivo lung perfusion, which is when the lungs are infused with a special fluid that is similar to blood. This process allows the lungs to live longer and researchers can observe to see if the lungs are transferring oxygen properly. The researchers also use a bronchoscope to look for any abnormalities. The first set of lungs Egan examined failed due to the detection of an early disease. However, the lab reveals that saving lungs with this method could work.

"If we can get the lungs ventilated within an hour, and then removed within an hour or two and cooled, we think they'll work just fine," Egan said according to NBC News.

Now, patients on the lung transplant list can agree to take the lungs Egan saves if the lungs are healthy. If this method works, more lungs could be available for people who need it.

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