By Nami Sugimura, staff writer


SUITA, Osaka Prefecture–A life support machine developed by scientists here is being hailed as a major breakthrough for treating patients with serious pulmonary or heart problems, including those infected with the new coronavirus.


The new extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, the world’s smallest and lightest of its kind, is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of portability and durability over current models installed in intensive care units.


ECMO machines are used to temporarily draw blood from heart failure patients and others whose heart or lungs are seriously damaged to restore oxygen levels.

The new model was developed by a team including researchers from the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center (NCVC).


The team plans to complete clinical trials in about two years and then seek government approval for its use as medical equipment.


The new model weighs only 6.6 kilograms, one-fifth that of existing ones, meaning it can be mobilized to respond to emergencies, such as when a patient’s condition suddenly deteriorates away from intensive care.


Conventional ECMO machines are too big to use outside intensive care units and similar facilities, according to Norihide Fukushima, who heads the NCVC’s Department of Transplantation.


Unlike current machines, the new model can continue operating for an hour even without electricity, making it possible to use in ambulances.


While conventional ECMO machines are prone to causing blood clots, the new model was modified to stop clots forming, allowing it to keep operating safely for a month during experiments on animals.


“Blood clots exert greater negative effects after one week or more (using current machines),” said Eisuke Tatsumi, deputy director of the institute’s Open Innovation Center. “The new machine will be of great use in prolonged therapy.”


To treat coronavirus patients, ECMO machines typically need to be in operation for 10 days, but existing ones must be replaced in just three days or so.


Suspending a machine’s operations so it can be replaced poses a huge health risk to patients. In addition, numerous healthcare providers are required to carry out the procedure.


The new model is scheduled to be tested at the NCVC, Osaka University and Kansai Medical University on 23 to 25 individuals, including coronavirus patients.

Fukushima said the new model will substantially “lessen the psychological burden on medical staff” once it is introduced for use.


“The new model is much more convenient to use,” he said. “On existing machines, blood pressure and other barometers are separately displayed, but on the new one they can be checked simultaneously.”