The iron lung machine, now a relic of the past, was once a lifeline for polio patients, enabling them to breathe. Now Dr. Jake Brenner, a pulmonary critical care physician at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine has taken the principle behind this mechanical respirator to design a wearable breathing device for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is a chronic and progressive disease that causes airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. These symptoms are most pronounced while patients are engaged in physical activities. According to the CDC, the disease affects sixteen million Americans. Other symptoms include:
- Coughing and wheezing
- Excess phlegm
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Chest tightness
While there is no cure, patients can obtain treatment to alleviate symptoms like:
- Pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a personalized program that educates patients about diet and exercise, teaches them how to breathe more effectively and improve their quality of life
- Quitting smoking
- Supplemental oxygen
- Medication to treat coughing and wheezing
- Vaccinations against respiratory illnesses like the flu
A New Iron Lung?
Dr. Brenner is hoping his new design will soon be available commercially, providing yet another treatment option for COPD patients. He formed a company called Right Air, LLC, and has been working with engineers to streamline the idea and create a model that he hopes to submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval.
The AIR-AD resembles a vest and is mobile, weighing only eight pounds. The ventilator is hidden inside the vest. It consists of two shells that hug the patient’s chest and back and a pump that moves the shells. The negative pressure opens up the air passages in the lungs while the positive pressure compresses the lungs, enabling the lungs to exhale.
The AIR-AD vest will help COPD sufferers to participate in physical activities in any location with more ease and confidence. The device will adjust to the breathing rhythms of the patient whether seated or moving.
When this new “iron lung” machine finally reaches the market, COPD patients will be able to participate more fully in the world around them and will enjoy a better quality of life.