Breathing New Life Into Rejected Donor Lungs

An experimental process aimed at addressing the donor lung shortage

It’s alive! Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with the best of intentions. Cleveland Clinic researchers are reviving rejected donor lungs through an innovative new technique. 

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Surgeons are
only able to use about
20 percent of lungs
from donors.

Addressing the donor lung shortage

It’s a troubling fact: there are more patients in need of transplants than suitable donor lungs. Each year around 1,700 lung transplants are performed in the U.S. alone. That number could be a lot higher if not for the staggering shortage of high quality donor lungs. 

Ex vivo lung perfusion

The experimental process being performed by Kenneth McCurry, MD, Cleveland Clinic cardiothoracic surgeon, and his colleagues at Cleveland Clinic can revive lungs so they may eventually be used for transplants.

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This process, called ex vivo lung perfusion, uses a miniature heart-lung machine to pump solutions and oxygen through the lungs, reversing injury and reviving the once rejected donor organs. At this time, surgeons are only able to use about 20 percent of lungs from donors, which limits how many patients that can be transplanted. It is hoped that ex vivo lung perfusion could make a drastic difference to those awaiting lung transplants.

Ex vivo lung perfusion could make a drastic difference to those awaiting lung transplants. Dr. McCurry hopes it will become FDA-approved this year.

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