The clinical center of the university of Mainz, Germany, reported the first successful use of a newly developed mobile heart-lung support system with a patient suffering from life-threatening pulmonary embolism. "Lifebridge", a highly automated system, was connected via the inguinal vessels right after the embolism had occurred and immediately took over the functions of lung and heart, supplying the organism with oxygen. To date only heart-lung machines which due to their size can only be installed in ORs where able to do this. For many emergency care patients, however, transport to the OR takes much too long.

"Imagine", says Professor Christian Friedrich Vahl, Director of the department for cardio-thoracic and vascular surgery at the university hospital Mainz, "a young man collapses right in front of your eyes, gasping frantically. He has to be resuscitated immediately. If the pulmonary vessels are occluded the patient will die despite your resuscitation efforts since the lung is unable to take in the required oxygen." Before, in such a situation the physicians had only one option: immediate surgery and heart-lung machine.
Lifebridge in contrast is a mobile heart-lung support system which can be connected while reanimation is still going on. It immediately provides adequate lung function and blood circulation. “Since we had no choice in this specific case we decided to go for Lifebridge”, explains Professor Vahl. “The implant was successful and with the support system up and running we were able to stabilize the patient sufficiently to perform the diagnostic procedures which confirmed pulmonary embolism." Subsequently, the patient underwent successful surgery with the medical team headed by assistant medical director Professor Uwe Mehlhorn. "With Lifebridge we gained critical time: the organs are supplied with oxygen while we are diagnosing and treating the patient“, Professor Mehlhorn describes the advantages of the new treatment option.
Two weeks after surgery, the patient, who most likely would not have survived the embolism without Lifebridge, is doing well.
“Insidiously, resuscitation is useless”, says Professor Vahl, “when the lungs do not take up oxygen anymore as is the case with a serious pulmonary embolism. Reanimation gets the circulation going again, but since the blood does not contain sufficient oxygen, the organs and the brain might be damaged. In Mainz, patients with life-threatening heart and lung conditions can now benefit from Lifebridge which enables us to bridge the critical time between life-threatening disruption of the organ functions and life-saving surgical intervention. Moreover, the successful use of Lifebridge during acute pulmonary embolism is an important step in research and therapy of acute pulmonary diseases in Mainz."
In fact, for many years the development of an autonomous heart-lung robot has been a research focus of the department for cardio-thoracic and vascular surgery at the university hospital Mainz within the research area "minimal invasive surgery". Lifebridge is such a miniaturized heart-lung support robot. Professor Uwe Mehlhorn, who was the first one to use the system successfully in the treatment of pulmonary embolism, also headed the experimental evaluation of the mobile heart-lung support system in large animal studies and was part of the development team from the very beginning.


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