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By John Ostapkovich

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The University of Pennsylvania is among an elite group testing a revolutionary technique for preserving and even improving lungs donated for transplant.

The lungs are the most delicate of transplantable organs says Penn transplant surgeon Dr. Edward Cantu. When brain death occurs, lung tissue is hit with a chemical reaction that causes what should be air spaces to fill with fluid. Dr. Cantu says this renders many donated organs unsuitable.

“Currently we use organs from about 15 to 20% of potential donors. If we can increase that number to 50 to 80%, somewhere between two to four times as many organs will be available with the same outcome.”

To achieve that, this technique uses profusion and ventilation, which first runs a special fluid though blood vessels to dry the lungs and then basically “breathes” the lungs prior to implant. Dr. Cantu says this allows the lungs to heal themselves of the damage done by the harmful chemical reaction.

There are many, many more potential lung recipients than donors and that’s why doctors want to make every donation count.

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