The human respiratory system is made up of your nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, voice box, windpipe, lungs, diaphragm and blood vessels. Breathing is the process of inhaling and exhaling. When you inhale, you bring oxygen-rich air into your body. When you exhale, you release carbon dioxide into the air from your body. Each of us breathes about 25,000 times during a regular day. If you are healthy, this process is easy. But for the millions of people with long-term respiratory diseases, breathing is not that simple. If you have ever suffered from a cold or allergies, you have experienced what it feels like to have trouble breathing. Imagine if every breathe for the rest of your life was this difficult?
The lung is a magnificent organ built of a complex tree of airways that are, in an average person, 44 miles long and serve to ventilate 300 to 500 million air sacs or alveoli, with a total surface area nearly the size of a tennis court. This surface is covered by a dense mesh of blood capillaries of total length of about 3,000 miles. About 85 percent of the alveolar surface is in contact with blood across a tissue barrier 50 times thinner than a sheet of onion skin paper, which allows a very efficient uptake of oxygen.
Around 12 million people have chronic lung disease in the United States alone, but less than 2,000 people will be able to receive transplants because the need for transplant organs far outnumbers the supply of available organs. As a result, nearly 200,000 people die from chronic lung disease every year.
For more than 20 years, guest Dr. Keith Cook, and other researchers have worked on artificial temporary lungs that support patients in need of a lung transplant who are placed on a waiting list. These devices typically last days to a couple of weeks before failure and require patients to be closely monitored in a hospital.