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International Traveling Scholarship Report: Research Contributions on the Biohybrid Lung Project

Erin Schumer
University of Louisville
Louisville, KY, USA

In January, 2014, I was awarded the ISHLT Travelling Scholarship Award which provided me the opportunity to spend May 2014 at the Hannover Medical School (MHH) in Hannover, Germany, contributing to research efforts on the biohybrid lung project. As a general surgery resident, my goal of becoming an academically active cardiothoracic surgeon creates a strong interest in lung transplantation and lung transplantation research.

Starting in July 2013, I dedicated two years to research with the Advanced Heart Failure Research Group at the University of Louisville to work on cardiac assist device Research and Development and develop an ex vivo lung perfusion model. Following that experience, I knew that the ISHLT Travelling Scholarship Award presented an invaluable opportunity for me to obtain a wealth of knowledge in these research areas.

With this in mind, I approached my mentor, Professor Mark Slaughter, who felt we should collaborate with Hannover Medical School. MHH has one of the world's largest lung transplantation programs and a very active research program in artificial organs and ex vivo perfusion, which coincided perfectly with my research and career interests. Throughout the application process, both Professor Axel Haverich and Dr. Bettina Wiegmann at the Hannover Medical School were generous of their time and effort; and after very graciously being given this award, I was able to discover that this generosity was characteristic of the entire Department of Cardiothoracic Vascular and Transplantation Surgery at MHH.

My primary role during my visit was to conduct and complete an experiment as part of the biohybrid lung project with the intent to submit the data as a manuscript. When I was not in the laboratory, I participated in daily rounds in the intensive care unit and acted as an observer in the operating room. In addition, I had the opportunity to attend the "Breath meets Rebirth" conference upon arrival to Hannover. This conference demonstrated a varied breadth of research and innovation from international investigators on the topic of end-stage lung disease.

Following the conference, we began our experiments as part of the biohybrid lung project [1]. The research team, headed by Professor Haverich, at Leibniz Research Laboratories for Biotechnology and Artificial Organs, is currently developing a biohybrid lung for the treatment of end-stage lung disease. His group has made significant progress in the field of artificial organs in the last few years, and fortunately, my background in the development of an ex vivo lung perfusion model allowed me to participate in this project role.

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The laboratory team in front of the mock circuit. From left: Julia Weder, Hans-Klaus Höffler, and the author.

In order to develop the biohybrid lung, we needed to determine the smallest acceptable surface area capable of adequate oxygenation and ventilation. We created a mock circuit by using a cardiopulmonary bypass roller pump to circulate human blood first through an oxygenator to deoxygenate the blood and then through three sizes of oxygenators to test their capabilities. We tested the oxygenators by achieving various desired conditions using a carbon dioxide/nitrogen gas mixture, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. Preliminary analysis indicates that the pediatric oxygenator will likely be sufficient for adequate gas exchange.

I also spent time with the cardiac surgery residents assigned to the intensive care unit, the intermediate care unit, and in the operating room observing the care delivered to patients with heart and lung disease. The lung transplantation program at MHH is truly impressive, not only by volume at greater than 120 cases annually, but through the care delivered by the transplant team. I was able to observe several cardiac procedures, including the minimally invasive approach to ventricular assist devices originally developed at MHH. I enjoyed discussing the similarities and differences in patient care and training programs with the clinicians. The pride of the residents and attending surgeons was clearly demonstrated through their careful and enthusiastic explanations.

This visit was a truly memorable and valuable experience that I will carry with me as I progress through my training and career. Furthermore, we plan to continue this collaboration between University of Louisville and Hannover Medical School.

I would like to thank ISHLT for providing this award, Professor Mark Slaughter and the University of Louisville for their support and guidance, and Professor Haverich and Dr. Wiegmann in the Department of Cardiothoracic, Vascular, and Transplantation Surgery at MHH for this opportunity. ■

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to report.


  1. Wiegmann B, Figueiredo C, Gras C, et al. Prevention of rejection of allogeneic endothelial cells in a biohybrid lung by silencing HLA-class I expression. Biomaterials. Sep 2014;35(28):8123-8133.

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