Project works on respiratory aids that mimic healthy lungs

A collaborative two-year project between Swansea University’s College of Engineering and industry is helping to develop respiratory aids that mimic the performance of healthy lungs.

The project’s director Dr Michael Lewis, senior lecturer at Swansea University, said: ‘Although Extracorporeal Life Support systems — or artificial lungs — can support immobile patients with lung disease, these devices restrict patients to high-dependency units in hospitals.

‘This innovative project aims to develop a prototype small-scale respiratory aid, which is capable of regulating blood oxygenation and carbon-dioxide removal, in response to patients’ different metabolic requirements — ultimately allowing them to enjoy a better quality of life.’

The project has two closely related aims, both of which relate primarily to blood oxygenation by direct blood/air mass exchange. 

The first aim is to develop an automated control system for a respiratory aid, which is capable of modifying blood oxygenation and carbon-dioxide removal, in order to meet the changing requirements of active patients. 

The second aim is to study the distribution of blood flow through small-scale prototype respiratory aids.

In contrast to existing devices, the aim is to produce a respiratory aid that does not set pre-specified blood gas compositions. Instead, this innovation will adjust gas compositions to changing metabolic demands.

Prof P Rhodri Williams leads the team from the university’s Complex Fluids group, which will study the detailed blood flow pattern within the device. 

He said: ‘A deeper understanding of these flows is needed both to maximise the controllability of the device and to minimise the risk of blood clots forming in the device. This study has wider applications to other medical devices that contact blood.’

The project, entitled the Development of responsive control systems for an artificial lung, has been supported by a £215,000 grant through the Welsh Government’s Academic Expertise for Business programme.

Industry participation is being provided by Swansea-based companies Haemair, Haemaflow, DTR Medical and Staffordshire-based EGS Technologies.

The project is currently seeking volunteers to take part in the cardiovascular assessment stage of the research. Participants will need to be aged between 18 and 58 years and generally healthy, with no history of cardiovascular problems.