Lung simulation could improve respiratory failure treatment

Contact: Gabe Cherry, 734-763-2937, gcherry@umich.edu

ANN ARBOR – The first computer model that predicts the flow of liquid medication in human lungs is providing new insight into the treatment of respiratory failure. University of Michigan researchers are using the new technology to uncover why a treatment that saves the lives of premature babies has been largely unsuccessful in adults.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, is a sudden failure of the respiratory system that kills 74,000 adults each year in the United States alone. It’s most common among the critically ill or those with major lung damage. The treatment, called surfactant replacement therapy, delivers a liquid medication into the lungs that makes it easier for them to inflate. It’s widely used to treat a similar condition in premature babies, who sometimes lack the surfactant necessary to expand their lungs. The treatment has contributed to a dramatic reduction in mortality rates of premature babies. But attempts to use it in adults have been largely unsuccessful despite nearly two decades of research.

“The medication needs to work its way from the trachea to tiny air sacs deep inside the lungs to be effective,” explains James Grotberg, the leader of the team that developed the technology. Grotberg is a professor of biomedical engineering in the U-M College of Engineering and a professor of surgery at the U-M Medical School. “This therapy is relatively straightforward in babies but more complex in adults, mostly because adult lungs are much bigger.”

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