Dr. Shaf Keshavjee presents EXVIVO Lung Perfusion system at TEDMED

Dr. Shaf Keshavjee presents EXVIVO Lung Perfusion system at TEDMED

By Katherine Hobson The Wall Street Journal Blogs October 27, 2010, 10:27 AM ET

At the recent TEDMED conference {Oct 26-29, 2010 San Diego}, Shaf Keshavjee, director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program, asked for volunteers to come onstage and touch a breathing pig lung, which was hooked up to a machine that kept it essentially “alive.”

Martha Stewart, seated up front, raised her hand, so minutes later she — and a handful of other conference participants — had donned rubber gloves and were grasping the lung as the machine helped it “breathe.” (We halfway expected her to offer up a really good offal recipe to the crowd.)

The tool Keshavjee had brought with him was essentially a mini heart-lung machine but in reverse. It permits the lung to stay at room temperature and function as usual — removing carbon dioxide from blood (a cellular solution, in this demonstration) and adding oxygen. When a human lung retrieved from a deceased donor is hooked up to the machine, physicians get the luxury of time to assess its condition and then treat it using targeted methods, including gene and cellular therapy, before transplanting it into the recipient. At that point, it’s become a “super organ,” as Keshavjee says.

Using conventional methods, transplanted lungs are cooled to slow deterioration and then transplanted, with little time to assess their condition or repair damage. Keshavjee says this new method has allowed some 30 patients to receive donated and repaired lungs that wouldn’t have ordinarily been used.

He says the holy grail for the pre-op repair process would be to treat donated lungs while they’re outside the body to avoid rejection by the host, to “make it like self.”

His presentation was preceded by a performance and testimony by double-lung transplant recipient soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick.