U transplants first breathing lung in the Midwest

The University could use the new breathing device for heart transplants in the future.

Katelyn Faulks

Pumping air and blood into lungs is a natural process for the human body, but a new device can keep lungs breathing during transplants.

Last week, University of Minnesota assistant surgery professor Dr. Gabriel Loor performed the first “breathing lung” transplant in the Midwest, operating on a 51-year-old man from Minnesota, according to a University press release.

“It was very fulfilling,” Loor said. “We were very relaxed when we were doing the transplant. … We felt we had as much time as needed to do the transplant.”

Before the new technology, surgeons stored lungs on ice during the transfer from donor to patient in order to keep them cool so they needed less oxygen and nutrients. But the lungs can’t be on ice for more than six hours, Loor said.

“We finally have a device that we can do what we initially wanted to do when transplantation was first devised,” he said.

The device, called the TransMedics Organ Care System, may significantly reduce the time patients have to spend on waiting lists for donations, he said, and it will give doctors more time to perform the procedure.

The system is the size of a small portable grill. It provides air and oxygenated blood to the lungs, Loor said. Doctors can monitor the lungs by the minute through wireless technology.

The technology has two benefits, Loor said. First, the lungs receive vital nutrients while breathing as if they were still inside the donor. Second, the device offers a healthier environment than the dying donor.

Currently, centers can only use the device if TransMedics approves researchers’ participation in a clinical trial, he said. The company is testing the lungs’ quality on the device.

Doctors can also transplant hearts using the system, which keeps them beating at a constant pace.

“We are exploring opportunities for using the device for heart transplantation [at the University] in the near future,” Loor said.