Now a dialyser for the lungs. Paul Ramesh, a a cardio-thoracic surgeon, at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai in southern India and A. Subrahmanyam, a physicist at the premier engineering institution, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) have come together to fabricate the device.
Their dialyser, based on oxygenation of human blood through photo catalysis, will split water in the blood (it contains 80 per cent water) within the human body and send oxygenated blood through the arteries, thus helping people with chronic and acute lung failure to survive.
Currently available therapeutic methods for people with lung failure or acute liver disease — the ventilator and the membrane oxygenator used by the heart lung machine — have to use external oxygen canisters, Dr. Ramesh says. This brings attendant problems of infection and limited use.
The Photocatalytic Oxygenation project will facilitate the task of generating oxygen within the human body. Using the same principle that plants use to make oxygen, the team has succeeded in harnessing nanotechnology to infuse oxygen into human blood. A thin film made of titanium dioxide, approximately 1/1000th the thickness of human hair, facilitates a ray of UV light to split the water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen is immediately removed and oxygen allowed to circulate in the arterial system. All materials used are bio compatible.
Research continues to establish the safety of the procedure and also to replace UV light with sunlight. If that comes through, after clinical trials, a device (micro sphere) will be placed in the body, with a possible external manifestation that will receive sunlight.
"Our idea is that a person with lung failure can now go out into the sunshine and begin to feel good. If there is no sunlight, the light of a lamp bulb will do," Dr. Ramesh explains. For his part, Prof. Subrahmanyam says the idea is to develop a tool that will imitate the action of the lung membrane - oxygen absorption.
The team has applied for an Indian patent and presented findings of their research at the annual conference of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs in June 2007, Dr. Subrahmanyam told reporters at Chennai on Friday.
Remarking that the spark for the project came while researching on cleaner fuels, M.S. Ananth, Director, IIT-Madras, said a prepared mind could rightly use even "happy accidents."