New network secures funding for the development of the biohybrid lung

Since the early days of DZL, the group of Prof. Dr. Axel Haverich at the DZL-site BREATH have been “on the way to an implantable, artificial lung”. Recently the BREATH scientists have successfully applied for additional funds in a 7-digit amount. Their research will be supported through the Focus Program (Schwerpunktprogramm) SPP 2014 of the German Research Society (DFG) over the next 6 years.

A key priority of the ELD Group led by Prof. Dr. Axel Haverich at the Hannover DZL site BREATH is the development of an implantable, artificial lung to support patients in end-stage lung failure. The group has recently received a significant boost with over 1 million Euros in funding awarded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of a new German network which will be working towards the creation of an implantable lung.

For patients with severe lung disease, lung transplantation is the currently only curative treatment. However, this option is limited due to the shortage of organs available for transplantation and the growing numbers of patients on the waiting list. The Priority Program (SPP 2014) "Towards an Implantable Lung" aims to address this gap by establishing a network to undertake targeted research on developing a biohybrid lung as a viable long-term alternative to lung transplantation. This network is coordinated by the Uniklinik RWTH Aachen with partners from Hannover, the University Hospital Regensburg and the University Hospital Tübingen, and will receive a total of 12 million Euros in funding over a six-year period.

"While considerable progress has been made in the development of artificial hearts in recent years, the development of an artificial implantable support device for lungs - a much more complex organ than the heart - is still in its infancy," explained Professor Axel Haverich, Director of the MHH Clinic for Cardiothoracic, Transplantation and Vascular Surgery (HTTG) and Program Coordinator at the Hanover site. The HTTG is one of the largest lung transplantation clinics worldwide with over 140 lung transplants per year.

The basis for the biohybrid lung is the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support system, which can support or take over lung function for short periods of time. However, long-term use is currently not feasible as the body reacts to the artificial surfaces of the ECMO device, for example, by forming blood clots. In order to prevent this, the MHH researchers are working in an interdisciplinary team from the Leibniz Research Laboratories for Biotechnology and Artificial Organs (LEBAO), the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and the Lower Saxony Center for Biomedical Engineering, Implant Research and Development (NIFE) with various strategies to further develop the support system. The projects in Hannover will focus on optimizing the blood compatibility of artificial surfaces by cell colonization, improving blood flow conditions, and downsizing the system to facilitate long-term use, eventually paving the way towards the implantation of the biohybrid lung into the body.


Text: MHH / Presseabteilung

Picture: MHH / Kaiser

Project members (from left): Nina McGuinness, Professor Dr. Wim Wolkers, Privatdozent Dr. Constanca Ferreira de Figueiredo, Professor Axel Haverich, Dr. Bettina Wiegmann, Associate Professor Dr. Christian Kühn, Dr. Ruth Olmer und Dr. Sotiris Korossis [Photo: MHH/Kaiser]