Model takes guesswork out of lung operations

UK scientists have designed a 3D computer simulation which could aid the treatment of collapsed lungs.

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By  Joanne Bladd Published  September 27, 2006

UK scientists have designed a 3D computer simulation which could aid the treatment of collapsed lungs. The programme calculates vital information about how much pressure is needed to reopen the airways without damaging the tissue. It could benefit premature babies and adults who suffer from respiratory distress syndrome. The University of Manchester study is published in the Journal of Biomechanical Engineering. Respiratory distress syndrome is often caused by a lack of surfactant in the underdeveloped lungs of premature babies. Without it, airways can become blocked, causing severe breathing difficulties. Reopening a blocked airway involves forcing a pressurised finger of air deep into the airway. The new computer programme gives doctors a guide to how vigorous they need to be, by calculating the interaction between fluid mechanics, air pressure, surface tension and wall elasticity inside the airways. Researcher Dr Matthias Heil said: “When the lung collapses you want to be able to reopen airways as quickly as possible but you do not want to damage the lung. “There is a very fine balance between the amount of pressure you can apply and the potential damage you might cause. Currently this assessment has to be made by a medic solely based on experience. “We hope that our simulation will help to inform and improve the medical treatment of infants and adults suffering from this condition.” The researchers found that fluid inertia is key when assessing the pressure required to reopen a blocked airway. If fluid inertia is not taken into account, the estimated pressure is too low. In addition, they found that the reopening pressure decreases as the level of airway collapse increases. Commenting on the programme, researcher Dr Keith Prowse said much more work was needed before it could be used in clinical practice, but said it had “enormous potential”. “At present doctors frankly have to guess what pressure is appropriate, and gradually raise it until they think they have achieved a reasonable level of oxygenation. “Anything that enables you to predict an appropriate pressure before you start would get the job done faster and more comfortably.”

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