With a recent $4.2 million NIH grant, Thomas Egan, MD, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, has started a clinical study that tests a method of retrieving healthy lungs from donors who suffer sudden death outside of a hospital setting.
Egan's research has found that lungs have an amazing ability to live longer than other organs after a person dies. In fact, lungs are still viable after circulation stops because lung cells have their own oxygen supply. When circulation stops, the cells in the lungs can live for hours. Other organs require oxygen to be present through blood circulation.
Egan’s lab has perfused and ventilated human lungs outside of the body to determine suitability for transplantation. His lab has also shown the safety in transplanting these lungs. Being able to retrieve these lungs and successfully transplant them could increase the number of lung donors to as much as 50,000 a year.
Egan’s research team is the only group in the U.S. with FDA approval to test this transplant method.