A relatively simple change in a medical procedure could almost double the number of lungs available for transplants, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Under current practices, a brain-dead donor is usually placed on a ventilator while teams of transplant surgeons prepare to operate. The ventilator keeps the dead person breathing and prevents a rapid deterioration of body tissues. But forcing large volumes of air into the body can damage the delicate lungs, making them less suitable for transplanting or reducing the chances of a successful transplant.
So an international team of researchers, led by Marco Ranieri of the University of Turin, conducted a study to compare the standard ventilator approach with one using modified air flow and pressure. The findings revealed that pumping less air with each breath but more times a minute provided sufficient oxygenation while minimizing damage to the lungs. In fact, this protective strategy resulted in almost twice the usual number of lungs suitable for transplants.
"This is pretty simple and easy to implement," said one of the researchers, Arthur Slutsky of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. "It's not like a fancy new drug or equipment. You just have to change the ventilator a little bit."