After 1,250 heart transplants and 685 lung transplants, one would think Bartley P. Griffith could rest easy at night, knowing he had done everything possible for his patients.
But for the past 20-plus years, Griffith has felt a void. As he expressed when he was named UMB Researcher of the Year in 2010 “my own heart goes out to those suffering with breathlessness. I am eager to apply our artificial technology to those patients.”
Griffith, the Thomas E. and Alice Marie Hales Distinguished Professor in Transplant Surgery at the School of Medicine, took a giant step toward helping the hundreds of thousands who die annually from lung failure in 2014 when he founded Breethe, Inc., which was formed to commercialize the world’s first wearable, artificial lung system that Griffith developed.
For decades, patients with lung disease have been tied to a breathing machine in a hospital bed. Griffith’s new device is fully portable.
The pump lung unit, which is a little larger than a Coke can and sits on the patient’s belt, draws blood out down through the cannula. It oxygenates and removes carbon dioxide from the blood, which then goes back in the body. The unit also is attached to a portable pack on wheels (which eventually could become a backpack), which contains batteries, the oxygen source, and the pump motor to control it.
Pumping the blood without clotting is a key element of the device built by Griffith, who earlier in his career was one of the first surgeons to implant a Jarvik heart and develop a pediatric heart pump. Breethe plans to file its 501(k) request for approval with the Food and Drug Administration in 2019.
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