Griffith Revisits ‘Road To A Deep Breath’
Thursday, October 26, 2017
Bartley P. Griffith, MD, took a riveted audience on the “Road to a Deep Breath” at the Entrepreneur of the Year presentation on Oct. 18, one of the highlights of UMB’s Founders Week celebration.
Griffith, the Thomas E. and Alice Marie Hales Distinguished Professor in Transplant Surgery at the School of Medicine, has spent 20 years developing the world’s first wearable, artificial lung system and founded Breethe, Inc. in 2014 to perfect and commercialize it.
“There is no worse death than one from loss of lung function,” Griffith says.
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To demonstrate his point, Griffith showed a PowerPoint slide of a huge rock sitting on a stick person’s chest to the audience at the BioPark Life Sciences Conference Center. It included the words “Empathy Drives Everything.”
Empathy is what has inspired Griffith in his Breethe quest. Hundreds of thousands of people die annually from lung failure. Griffith, as a surgeon who has done more than 1,250 heart transplants and 685 lung transplants, has seen firsthand the demoralizing life of those who are tied to a breathing machine in a hospital bed.
“If we build a better mousetrap, people can get up and live a more normal life, and we can get them out of the hospital,” Griffith told the audience of his original thoughts. The road wasn’t easy. There were setbacks as well as successes. “I love firsts,” says Griffith, who also was the first surgeon in America to implant a Jarvik heart in a patient and developed a pediatric heart pump.
It took decades but Griffith and his team have developed the first wearable artificial lung system. Fully portable, the pump lung unit, which is a little larger than a Coke can and sits on the patient’s belt, draws blood out down through the cannula. It oxygenates and removes carbon dioxide from the blood, which then goes back into the body. The unit also is attached to a portable pack on wheels, which contains batteries, the oxygen source, and the pump motor to control it.
“Our artificial lung device is different because of its inherently biocompatible and efficient design,” says Griffith, who also has built a resistance to clotting into it, saying “moving blood is good blood; stagnant blood is bad blood.”
With business partners Carl Cohen and Steve Orwig, who attended the presentation, and medical device executive Marshal Linder, who was out of the country, Griffith and the Breethe team are proceeding toward filing a 501(k) request for approval with the Food and Drug Administration in 2019.
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