Children with chronic lung diseases often must wait months or even years for a transplant, while large, immobile hospital equipment that could help them breathe easier actually may worsen their condition by overtaxing already damaged lungs.
Additionally, the required bed confinement can bring about a decline in these young patients’ overall physical and mental states.
At Mississippi State, Greg Burgreen is part of a team at the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems helping address these critical issues. With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, the associate research professor is working with colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh to develop a more portable breathing device.
Regularly referred to by its acronym, CAVS is a member research center of the university’s High Performance Computing Collaboratory (HPC2) and has developed a global reputation for interdisciplinary education and research to expand and enhance the design, technology, production and infrastructure necessary for sustainable mobility. At HPC2, Burgreen also has access to one of the world’s most advanced supercomputers.
In the project with Pittsburgh, the CAVS team is using computational prototyping to develop digital models of a device called thePediatric Paracorporeal Assist Lung. When fully developed, P-PAL, as it’s known, will be about the size of an average adult fist.
Like larger devices for oxygenating blood cells while removing carbon dioxide, P-PAL will involve tubes connected to the body via either the femoral artery or jugular vein. Though invasive, it will enable patients to be mobile during treatment and enjoy a better quality of life while awaiting lung transplants.
A doctoral graduate in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion University, Burgreen came to CAVS shortly after it opened. Previously, he spent nearly a decade with a Pittsburgh medical research team involved in a national research effort to develop an artificial heart small enough for use in infants and children.
Historically, biomedical devices have been designed and tested using physical models that have been both expensive and time-consuming to create. The rise of computer-based prototyping has made possible significantly faster and cheaper ways to develop a device and simulate operation.
Even with progress made possible by advanced computer-based technologies, Burgreen said the P-PAL project still faces major challenges. “One of the hardest things in this type of research is trying to mimic the sophistication and efficiency of human physiology without causing mechanical damage to blood,” Burgreen said.
Though clinical use by patients remains years away, Burgreen said all involved on the project in Mississippi and Pennsylvania believe P-PAL can be a major therapeutic improvement, if not a full treatment, for children with lung diseases.
“Mississippi State University is helping to improve and prolong the lives of children suffering from lung diseases,” he said.