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As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, ventilators can provide lifesaving breathing support when illness or injury impairs breathing. However, being on a ventilator that essentially breathes for you can quickly reduce the strength of the diaphragm—the abdominal muscle that assists with natural breathing. That weakness increases reliance on the ventilator, in a vicious cycle that makes it harder to wean patients from ventilators.
However, the AeroPaceTM System by Lungpacer—a novel device in phase three clinical study at led by Dr. Shibab Sugeir and a team at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and other prestigious institutions nationally—may be key in reducing time on a ventilator. The device strengthens the diaphragm by stimulating the phrenic nerve in the neck.
Preliminary results are promising. Data published by Lungpacer in February 2022 indicate that Lungpacer therapy can provide a 246% increase in diaphragm strength and 128% improvement in lung function compared with patients on a standard ventilator.
The AeroPace technology is the medical equivalent of the leap from landlines to smartphones. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified AeroPace as a breakthrough device to improve access to this landmark therapy.
A @US_FDA #BreakthroughDevice being studied by @MedStarResearch might help patients wean off #ventilator use sooner. Learn about the @lungpacer technology that’s exciting researchers. #TreatPeople #MedStarHeathProud: https://bit.ly/390dJUN.Click to Tweet
Strength training for the diaphragm.
Doctors have known for generations that the diaphragm is controlled by the phrenic nerve, which runs along both sides of the neck. The AeroPaceTM System works by temporarily stimulating the nerves that contract the diaphragm and may help patients inhale air on their own.
These small stimulations of the phrenic nerve act as a sort of strength training system for the diaphragm, building a more natural breathing capability with each breath. Patients in our trial—those who have been intubated for at least four days and are not making progress on their own—reported the device made breathing easier, and they could feel their diaphragm contracting.
The AeroPaceTM System could reduce ventilator dependence by two to three days. Getting off a ventilator sooner offers the potential for rippling benefits, such as reduced:
Muscle atrophy: Approximately 80% of patients on prolonged ventilation develop respiratory muscle atrophy. Patients can lose 2-4% of their muscle mass per day during the first week in the ICU.
Costs: Safely shortening the ICU stay can result in fewer out-of-pocket dollars for the patient and reduced costs for the hospital.
Recovery time: Patients who resume natural breathing sooner can get up and participate in rehabilitation quicker, potentially reducing recovery time.
Helping patients heal sooner.
The AeroPaceTM System is available to patients only through clinical studies. However, our research team is optimistic this device will be used more widely as additional data are collected. When more health systems receive access, this technology could have major, positive impacts in speeding rehabilitation and reducing complications—and getting patients back to their lives sooner.
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