McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member Peter Wearden, MD, PhD (pictured), cardiothoracic surgeon, director of pediatric mechanical cardiopulmonary support, and assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery, Division of Cardiac Surgery, Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and his team of clinicians, recently used artificial lung technology in the treatment of a 6-year-old Delaware girl who had hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT). It was Dr. Wearden’s aggressive strategy—to provide care to Molly Dunne with Novalung’s iLA Membrane Ventilator®—that saved her life. Molly is only the second child in the United States to receive this type of care.
HHT is an inherited disorder of the blood vessels that can cause excessive bleeding. People with this condition can develop abnormal blood vessels called arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) in several areas of the body—the skin, brain, lungs, liver, or intestines. Some possible complications of HHT include heart failure and high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension).
On her first day of kindergarten, Molly unexpectedly collapsed. While at a Wilmington hospital, Molly’s situation took a tragic turn—she went into cardiac arrest and suffered brain damage. A machine was keeping her alive. A day before her 6th birthday, Molly was flown to Children’s Hospital for a breakthrough treatment.
“Because she had such astronomically high blood pressure in her lungs, even higher than it was in the rest of her body, her right heart failed,” said Dr. Wearden. “We used a device called the Novalung. It’s basically an oxygenator that has a very low resistance and I was able to connect to her heart.”
“[The Novalung device] served two purposes. One, it replaced her lungs. It was able to do all the gas exchange her lungs would normally do,” said Dr. Wearden. “The other thing was, it lowered the blood pressure the heart was pumping against, so it allowed her heart to recover.”
After 25 days, the Novalung was removed. For the last 2 months, Molly has remained stable and is getting stronger every day. Dr. Wearden says Molly will always need treatment for the high blood pressure of her lungs. Time is the medicine for her brain injury, including a lot of attention and physical therapy.
Novalung’s mission is to create new solutions for the treatment of lung failure with innovative artificial lungs that “breathe” outside the patient’s body. The pioneering task is to work with leading clinicians around the world to develop new therapies to replace damaging invasive mechanical ventilation. Novalung’s iLA Membrane Ventilator® is the first artificial lung that breathes for the patient outside the body. It removes carbon dioxide outside of the lung, and is perfused by the heart like a natural organ. This relieves the patient’s lung by providing gas exchange support and reducing the workload for the breathing pump. The lung is given time to heal.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
CBS Pittsburgh (12/13/10)
MedLine Plus: Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome (hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia)
Bio: Dr. Peter Wearden