Carbon monoxide (CO) is one of the most common substances that people are poisoned by. It has no smell and is invisible to the naked eye, but can cause severe damage to tissues and lead to death. Patients who have already suffered significant lung damage because of CO inhalation too often don’t respond sufficiently to pure oxygen. Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that a new device that treats patient blood using visible light works better that standard of care oxygen therapy.
The research, so far performed in laboratory mice, uses an extracorporeal membrane oxygenator to shine light through blood removed and delivered back to the animals. It has been known for over a century that light can break the CO bond, effectively removing the molecule while leaving oxygen untouched, but only now has this phenomenon finally been used in practice. The treated mice showed much higher levels of CO removal compared with a control group, and those with lung damage survived in higher numbers.
“Whenever CO intoxication is associated with lung injury, current treatment with pure oxygen is ineffective and sometimes even dangerous. If the development of our technology for larger animals and humans is successful, this may represent a unique alternative treatment for CO poisoned individuals with concurrent lung injury,” said study first author Luca Zazzeron, MD, a clinical fellow in anesthesia at MGH.
Here’s the lead researcher, Warren M. Zapol, explaining the background and showing off the new device:
Study in Science Translational Medicine: Phototherapy and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation facilitate removal of carbon monoxide in rats