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New Transplant Technique Keeps Lungs Breathing Before Transplants

New York Presbyterian Hospital(NEW YORK) -- Nancy Bloch, 60, of Westchester, N.Y., was physically fit and had no history of medical problems, but a routine checkup that involved a quick listen to her chest detected something she recalled her physician's assistant saying, "didn't sound right."

Bloch was diagnosed in 2007 with a rare lung disease called diffuse interstitial lung disease.  After her diagnosis, her health started quickly deteriorating.

After seven unsuccessful attempts to undergo a routine double-lung transplant, Bloch became in August the second patient so far at New York-Presbyterian Hospital to successfully undergo a revolutionary experimental approach to lung transplantation that could offer potentially more viable lungs to more patients like Bloch who are on the recipient wait list.

The technique, called "ex vivo" -- or, outside the body -- involves taking the lungs that were removed from the donor and placing them in a transparent case, where they are hooked up to a pump and ventilator.  The lungs are closely monitored for up to four hours as they are nourished with nutrients and antibiotics and pumped with oxygen.

In the traditional lung-transplant approach, the lungs are assessed in the deceased donor's body before being removed. If the lung is considered viable, it is stored in cold temperatures within a short window of time before the transplant.

But the new preservation technique "revives" the lungs in a transparent box by gradually warming the lungs to normal body temperature, and the organ is reinstated in an environment as if it is in the body. The lungs are assessed and reconditioned in the operating room until the final minute before being placed in the recipient's body.

In 2011, nearly 1,400 lung transplants were performed, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"We have the potential to increase, even double, the number of transplants we're performing, and to satisfy the needs for more lung transplants," Dr. Frank D'Ovidio, the associate surgical director of the lung transplant program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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