This Small Device Could Boost Lung Research

Kristopher Sturgis

July 22, 2016

3 Min Read
This Small Device Could Boost Lung Research

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists tissue-engineered an artificial lung into a small plastic microfluidic device, creating an opportunity to test human lung response to drugs, toxins, and other conditions.

Kristopher Sturgis


Los Alamos Artificial Lung

Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) nicknamed the plastic artificial lung "PuLMo" for pulmonary lung model. Much like the human lung, the technology consists of two major parts: the bronchiolar unit and the alveolar unit. The unit was designed to revolutionize the process of drug-toxicity assessments and the development of new pharmaceutical therapies used in conditions associated with lung disease.

The artificial lung is primarily made from various polymers that are connected by a microfluidic circuit board that manages fluid and air flow simultaneously. Pulak Nath, researcher in applied modern physics at LANL and lead engineer on the project, spoke in the press release about what went into the creation of this new, revolutionary artificial model.

"When we build our lung, we not only take into account the aspects of different cell types and the tissues that are involved, but we also take into account that a lung is supposed to breathe, so PuLMo actually breathes," Nath said.

The group realized that, because humans breathe in and out thousands of times every day, we don't always have the ability to control what goes in our lungs. Creating a device where researchers can test and study the effects of various toxins and drugs on actual human cells could be extremely beneficial to our understanding of lung disease and its various conditions.

The development of artificial organs and limbs continues to move forward with rapid pace, as research continues to look for artificial solutions that can bridge the gap for patients in need. Earlier this month we saw researchers from the University of Michigan create an artificial placenta technology that mimics the placenta in the womb -- a technology that could improve survival rates in the most extreme cases of premature birth.

Much like the artificial placenta, the PuLMo was designed to mimic its natural counterpart in every way, so that researchers could use it as a tool to study conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. The group believes the PuLMo can be used to study long air-flow dynamics to increase understanding of the mechanisms of toxins and drug delivery, as well as the effect of smoking and other things like e-cigarettes.

In the past drug trials have been performed on animals and humans, but they carry obvious dangers when they're unsuccessful. The studies can result in harmful conditions, or carry harmful side effects, and sometimes can even be fatal. This technology could potentially eliminate all of these complications, allowing researchers to observe the pharmaceutical success of virtually any drug therapy before using it on human patients.

The project is part of the ATHENA program funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency--a program aimed at designing an integrated, miniaturized surrogate human organ system that includes the heart, lungs, kidney, and liver. Pulak says that he and his colleagues are excited about the challenges that lie ahead for the PuLMo device, and anticipate exciting new solutions that can address those challenges. 

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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About the Author(s)

Kristopher Sturgis

Kristopher Sturgis is a freelance contributor to MD+DI.

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