SFU professor’s invention to help recovery of ventilator patients approved for emergency use in U.S.
System uses electrical stimulation to strengthen diaphragm, which can weaken with prolonged ventilator use
A Simon Fraser University professor’s invention submitted for patents 13 years ago has been granted approval for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration during the COVID-19 pandemic to help wean critically ill patients off ventilators.
The diaphragmatic pacing therapy system strengthens the diaphragm, which becomes weaker when a ventilator takes over to help a patient breathe.
It was developed by Prof. Andy Hoffer, who began studying diaphragm properties after his mother developed pneumonia and ended up on a ventilator in hospital more than a decade ago.
“She was never able to breathe well again. She died in hospital,” said Hoffer, a professor at SFU’s Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology.
Hoffer spoke to the relatives of other patients in intensive care and realized they had similar problems weaning off ventilators. He found that while a patient is on a ventilator, their diaphragm — the main muscle that helps people breathe — deteriorates.
“If a patient is on a ventilator for more than a day or two, the diaphragm really atrophies very fast. It can atrophy to half its size in three days of ventilation,” explained Hoffer.
Consequently, “about 30 per cent of patients on ventilators fail to wean because their capacity to breathe on their own is less than minimum.”
Hoffer says he received help from SFU to develop the idea and eventually formed a company, Lungpacer Medical, which is taking the therapy system to global markets.
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