Image courtesy of ALung Technologies

ALung Technologies has a device called the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System that has been getting widespread attention lately as desperate physicians search for ways to treat COVID-19 patients.

The onslaught of coronavirus has created a national ventilator shortage, as patients rely on them in life-threatening situations to blow oxygen into the lungs while removing carbon dioxide.

Hemolung is designed to keep people off ventilators as much as possible. It removes carbon dioxide directly from the blood, like a dialysis machine does for kidneys, and delivers oxygen directly to the blood. It was created to help COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) patients.

It’s currently in clinical trials in the U.S., where it has been used in 36 hospitals, and approved for use in Europe, where it has been used in 32 hospitals in the UK with thousands of patients.

“In the U.S., by the way, it’s been used on a compassionate-use basis, an emergency-use basis, as early as three to four years ago,” says Hemolung inventor William Federspiel, co-founder of ALung and professor of bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering “It was actually done here in Pittsburgh. At UPMC Presbyterian hospital.”

It can be an alternative or supplement to ventilators, depending on the patient’s condition, he notes.

“It definitely could be used to treat these COVID-19 patients,” says Federspiel. “But it’s important to point out that it’s not going to be an answer to the ventilator shortage. It’s been a challenge to ramp up the production of ventilators. Ford and GM have gotten involved and it’s still a rough path.”

Ventilators can cause damage to the lungs. Hemolung avoids this and doesn’t require intubation or sedation, so patients can remain responsive and mobile during treatment.

“The company is trying to get approval from the FDA to use the Hemolung under Emergency Use Authorization,” says Federspiel. “They’re trying to get that, and then they could treat COVID patients. We hope it will keep them from having to go on mechanical ventilation.”

“They would be able to be awake, not sedated, could move around, talk and eat. It’s a very different patient experience on the Hemolung.”

ALung is based in the South Side and employs 33 people.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.