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Filling A Patient's Lungs With Liquid Could Actually Lead To Healing

Tim Kelly
Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering
An infographic details steps in the drug delivery process CMU student Diane Nelson is working to develop.

A Ph.D. student in Pittsburgh is working to develop a more effective drug delivery method for patients with lung diseases.

Inhalation is the current standard, but Diane Nelson, who is pursuing her doctorate in biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said that doesn't always work.

“If the lung is diseased, you’re not actually getting good airflow in the areas that are damaged, so the drug is not actually going to the diseased regions,” Nelson said.

Credit Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Diane Nelson is a fifth-year Ph.D. student in the lab of Professor Keith Cook at Carnegie Mellon.

Consider cystic fibrosis, she said. The build up of mucus in the lungs can clog up entire airways.

Nelson's work uses perfluorocarbon (PFC) liquids that can get to all areas of the lungs, regardless of damage. They can hold a lot of oxygen, she said, so PFC liquids can fill the lungs without the patient drowning.

And because PFC liquids are denser than water, which dominates the make-up of mucus and inflammatory fluids, filling the lungs with them will push problematic substances to the top of the lungs, where they can be suctioned out.

Nelson has been working on an emulsion of medication, water and PFC liquid; a special ingredient called a fluorosurfactant keeps those components from separating so that the medication can be properly distributed throughout the lungs.

“We’re at the phase where we want to see if our emulsion, with the drug in it, with the fluorosurfactant, can actually kill bacteria,” she said.

Nelson and her colleagues are beginning experiments with pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that often affects cystic fibrosis patients.