Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new kind of artificial lung that can run on heart power and breathe normal air. That may not sound like much, but a quick look at current artificial lung technology goes to show you how complex the organ’s function really is.
Current artificial lungs don’t have efficient enough gas exchange to use normal air. Instead, they have to use pure oxygen to compensate, which means that they come part and parcel with heavy oxygen canisters. As if that weren’t bad enough, this inefficiency also means current artificial lungs have a lifespan on the order of days and, to boot, they require an outside power source.
This new model, which rises above those myriad shortcomings, benefits from a sillicon structure and molding technology that allows for the accurate recreation of capillaries and alveoli that have a diameter a quarter the size of a human hair. This hyper-realistic modeling allows the artificial lung to mimic normal lung function better than any other model on the market and its ability to work for long periods of time without any outside help could mean it would be fit as a permanent implant.
The caveat, of course, is that this artificial lung won’t be available for widespread use for a long time. Clinical trials are expected to be able to begin sometime in the next ten years, and even assuming everything goes perfectly, it takes a while to certify the reliability of synthetic versions of vital organs. Besides, these puppies are bound to be expensive. No free ride to start smoking yet.