For cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and progressive chronic respiratory failure, the first choice or treatment is mechanical ventilation. For decades, this method has been used to support critically ill patients in respiratory failure. Despite its life-saving potential, however, several experimental and clinical studies have suggested that ventilator-induced lung injury can adversely affect the lungs and patient outcomes. Current opinion is that by reducing the pressure and volume of gas delivered to the lungs during mechanical ventilation, the stress applied to the lungs is eased, enabling them to rest and recover. In addition, mechanical ventilation may fail to provide adequate gas exchange, thus patients may suffer from severe hypoxia and hypercapnea. For these reasons, extracorporeal lung support technologies may play an important role in the clinical management of patients with lung failure, allowing not only the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide (CO2) but also buying the lungs the time needed to rest and heal.
The objective of this analysis was to assess the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of extracorporeal lung support technologies in the improvement of pulmonary gas exchange and the survival of adult patients with acute pulmonary failure and those with end-stage chronic progressive lung disease as a bridge to lung transplantation (LTx). The application of these technologies in primary graft dysfunction (PGD) after LTx is beyond the scope of this review and is not discussed.
Clinical Applications of Extracorporeal Lung Support
Extracorporeal lung support technologies [i.e., Interventional Lung Assist (ILA) and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)] have been advocated for use in the treatment of patients with respiratory failure. These techniques do not treat the underlying lung condition; rather, they improve gas exchange while enabling the implantation of a protective ventilation strategy to prevent further damage to the lung tissues imposed by the ventilator. As such, extracorporeal lung support technologies have been used in three major lung failure case types:
- As a bridge to recovery in acute lung failure – for patients with injured or diseased lungs to give their lungs time to heal and regain normal physiologic function.
- As a bridge to LTx – for patients with irreversible end stage lung disease requiring LTx.
- As a bridge to recovery after LTx – used as lung support for patients with PGD or severe hypoxemia.
Ex-Vivo Lung Perfusion and Assessment
Recently, the evaluation and reconditioning of donor lungs ex-vivo has been introduced into clinical practice as a method of improving the rate of donor lung utilization. Generally, about 15% to 20% of donor lungs are suitable for LTx, but these figures may increase with the use of ex-vivo lung perfusion. The ex-vivo evaluation and reconditioning of donor lungs is currently performed at the Toronto General Hospital (TGH) and preliminary results have been encouraging (Personal communication, clinical expert, December 17, 2009). If its effectiveness is confirmed, the use of the technique could lead to further expansion of donor organ pools and improvements in post-LTx outcomes.
Extracorporeal Lung support Technologies
The ECMO system consists of a centrifugal pump, a membrane oxygenator, inlet and outlet cannulas, and tubing. The exchange of oxygen and CO2 then takes place in the oxygenator, which delivers the reoxygenated blood back into one of the patient’s veins or arteries. Additional ports may be added for haemodialysis or ultrafiltration.
Two different techniques may be used to introduce ECMO: venoarterial and venovenous. In the venoarterial technique, cannulation is through either the femoral artery and the femoral vein, or through the carotid artery and the internal jugular vein. In the venovenous technique cannulation is through both femoral veins or a femoral vein and internal jugular vein; one cannula acts as inflow or arterial line, and the other as an outflow or venous line. Venovenous ECMO will not provide adequate support if a patient has pulmonary hypertension or right heart failure. Problems associated with cannulation during the procedure include bleeding around the cannulation site and limb ischemia distal to the cannulation site.
Interventional Lung Assist (ILA) is used to remove excess CO2 from the blood of patients in respiratory failure. The system is characterized by a novel, low-resistance gas exchange device with a diffusion membrane composed of polymethylpentene (PMP) fibres. These fibres are woven into a complex configuration that maximizes the exchange of oxygen and CO2 by simple diffusion. The system is also designed to operate without the help of an external pump, though one can be added if higher blood flow is required. The device is then applied across an arteriovenous shunt between the femoral artery and femoral vein. Depending on the size of the arterial cannula used and the mean systemic arterial pressure, a blood flow of up to 2.5 L/min can be achieved (up to 5.5 L/min with an external pump). The cannulation is performed after intravenous administration of heparin.
Recently, the first commercially available extracorporeal membrane ventilator (NovaLung GmbH, Hechingen, Germany) was approved for clinical use by Health Canada for patients in respiratory failure. The system has been used in more than 2,000 patients with various indications in Europe, and was used for the first time in North America at the Toronto General Hospital in 2006.
The research questions addressed in this report are:
- Does ILA/ECMO facilitate gas exchange in the lungs of patients with severe respiratory failure?
- Does ILA/ECMO improve the survival rate of patients with respiratory failure caused by a range of underlying conditions including patients awaiting LTx?
- What are the possible serious adverse events associated with ILA/ECMO therapy?
To address these questions, a systematic literature search was performed on September 28, 2009 using OVID MEDLINE, MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, EMBASE, the Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), the Cochrane Library, and the International Agency for Health Technology Assessment (INAHTA) for studies published from January 1, 2005 to September 28, 2008. Abstracts were reviewed by a single reviewer and, for those studies meeting the eligibility criteria, full-text articles were obtained. Reference lists were also examined for any additional relevant studies not identified through the search. Articles with an unknown eligibility were reviewed with a second clinical epidemiologist and then a group of epidemiologists until consensus was established.
- Studies in which ILA/ECMO was used as a bridge to recovery or bridge to LTx
- Studies containing information relevant to the effectiveness and safety of the procedure
- Studies including at least five patients
- Studies reporting the use of ILA/ECMO for inter-hospital transfers of critically ill patients
- Studies reporting the use of ILA/ECMO in patients during or after LTx
- Animal or laboratory studies
- Case reports
Outcomes of Interest
- Reduction in partial pressure of CO2
- Correction of respiratory acidosis
- Improvement in partial pressure of oxygen
- Improvement in patient survival
- Frequency and severity of adverse events
The search yielded 107 citations in Medline and 107 citations in EMBASE. After reviewing the information provided in the titles and abstracts, eight citations were found to meet the study inclusion criteria. One study was then excluded because of an overlap in the study population with a previous study. Reference checking did not produce any additional studies for inclusion. Seven case series studies, all conducted in Germany, were thus included in this review (see Table 1).
Also included is the recently published CESAR trial, a multicentre RCT in the UK in which ECMO was compared with conventional intensive care management. The results of the CESAR trial were published when this review was initiated. In the absence of any other recent RCT on ECMO, the results of this trial were considered for this assessment and no further searches were conducted. A literature search was then conducted for application of ECMO as bridge to LTx patients (January, 1, 2005 to current). A total of 127 citations on this topic were identified and reviewed but none were found to have examined the use of ECMO as bridge to LTx.
Quality of Evidence
To grade the quality of evidence, the grading system formulated by the GRADE working group and adopted by MAS was applied. The GRADE system classifies the quality of a body of evidence as high, moderate, low, or very low according to four key elements: study design, study quality, consistency across studies, and directness.
Trials on ILA
Of the seven studies identified, six involved patients with ARDS caused by a range of underlying conditions; the seventh included only patients awaiting LTx. All studies reported the rate of gas exchange and respiratory mechanics before ILA and for up to 7 days of ILA therapy. Four studies reported the means and standard deviations of blood gas transfer and arterial blood pH, which were used for meta-analysis.
Fischer et al. reported their first experience on the use of ILA as a bridge to LTx. In their study, 12 patients at high urgency status for LTx, who also had severe ventilation refractory hypercapnea and respiratory acidosis, were connected to ILA prior to LTx. Seven patients had a systemic infection or sepsis prior to ILA insertion. Six hours after initiation of ILA, the partial pressure of CO2 in arterial blood significantly decreased (P < .05) and arterial blood pH significantly improved (P < .05) and remained stable for one week (last time point reported). The partial pressure of oxygen in arterial blood improved from 71 mmHg to 83 mmHg 6 hours after insertion of ILA. The ratio of PaO2/FiO2 improved from 135 at baseline to 168 at 24 hours after insertion of ILA but returned to baseline values in the following week.
Trials on ECMO
The UK-based CESAR trial was conducted to assess the effectiveness and cost of ECMO therapy for severe, acute respiratory failure. The trial protocol were published in 2006 and details of the methods used for the economic evaluation were published in 2008. The study itself was a pragmatic trial (similar to a UK trial of neonatal ECMO), in which best standard practice was compared with an ECMO protocol. The trial involved 180 patients with acute but potentially reversible respiratory failure, with each also having a Murray score of ≥ 3.0 or uncompensated hypercapnea at a pH of < 7.2. Enrolled patients were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive either conventional ventilation treatment or ECMO while on ventilator. Conventional management included intermittent positive pressure ventilation, high frequency oscillatory ventilation, or both. As a pragmatic trial, a specific management protocol was not followed; rather the treatment centres were advised to follow a low volume low pressure ventilation strategy. A tidal volume of 4 to 8 mL/kg body weight and a plateau pressure of < 30 cm H2O were recommended.
Bridge to recovery
- No RCTs or observational studies compared ILA to other treatment modalities.
- Case series have shown that ILA therapy results in significant CO2 removal from arterial blood and correction of respiratory acidosis, as well as an improvement in oxygen transfer.
- ILA therapy enabled a lowering of respiratory settings to protect the lungs without causing a negative impact on arterial blood CO2 and arterial blood pH.
- The impact of ILA on patient long-term survival cannot be determined through the studies reviewed.
- In-hospital mortality across studies ranged from 20% to 65%.
- Ischemic complications were the most frequent adverse events following ILA therapy.
- Leg amputation is a rare but possible outcome of ILA therapy, having occurred in about 0.9% of patients in these case series. New techniques involving the insertion of additional cannula into the femoral artery to perfuse the leg may lower this rate.
Bridge to LTx
- The results of one case series (n=12) showed that ILA effectively removes CO2 from arterial blood and corrects respiratory acidosis in patients with ventilation refractory hypercapnea awaiting a LTx
- Eight of the 12 patients (67%) awaiting a LTx were successfully transplanted and one-year survival for those transplanted was 80%
Since all studies are case series, the grade of the evidence for these observations is classified as “LOW”.
Bridge to recovery
Based on the results of a pragmatic trial and an intention to treat analysis, referral of patient to an ECMO based centre significantly improves patient survival without disability compared to conventional ventilation. The results of CESAR trial showed that:
- For patients with information about disability, survival without severe disability was significantly higher in ECMO arm
- Assuming that the three patients in the conventional ventilation arm who did not have information about severe disability were all disabled, the results were also significant.
- Assuming that none of these patients were disabled, the results were at borderline significance
- A greater, though not statistically significant, proportion of patients in ECMO arm survived.
- The rate of serious adverse events was higher among patients in ECMO group
The grade of evidence for the above observations is classified as “HIGH”.
Bridge to LTx
- No studies fitting the inclusion criteria were identified.
There is no accurate data on the use of ECMO in patients awaiting LTx.
The objective of the economic analysis was to determine the costs associated with extracorporeal lung support technologies for bridge to LTx in adults. A literature search was conducted for which the target population was adults eligible for extracorporeal lung support. The primary analytic perspective was that of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC). Articles published in English and fitting the following inclusion criteria were reviewed:
- Full economic evaluations including cost-effectiveness analyses (CEA), cost-utility analyses (CUA), cost-benefit analyses (CBA);
- Economic evaluations reporting incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICER) i.e. cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY), life years gained (LYG), or cost per event avoided; and
- Studies in patients eligible for lung support technologies for to lung transplantation.
The search yielded no articles reporting comparative economic analyses.
Resource Use and Costs
Costs associated with both ILA and ECMO (outlined in Table ES-1) were obtained from the University Health Network (UHN) case costing initiative (personal communication, UHN, January 2010). Consultation with a clinical expert in the field was also conducted to verify resource utilization. The consultant was situated at the UHN in Toronto. The UHN has one ECMO machine, which cost approximately $100,000. The system is 18 years old and is used an average of 3 to 4 times a year with 35 procedures being performed over the last 9 years. The disposable cost per patient associated with ECMO is, on average, $2,200. There is a maintenance cost associated with the machine (not reported by the UHN), which is currently absorbed by the hospital’s biomedical engineering department.
The average capital cost of an ILA device is $7,100 per device, per patient, while the average cost of the reusable pump $65,000. The UHN has performed 16 of these procedures over the last 2.5 years. Similarly, there is a maintenance cost not that was reported by UHN but is absorbed by the hospital’s biomedical engineering department.
Hospital costs associated with ILA were based on the average cost incurred by the hospital for 11 cases performed in the FY 07/08 (personal communication, UHN, January 2010). The resources incurred with this hospital procedure included:
- Device and disposables
- OR transplant
- Surgical ICU
- Laboratory work
- Medical imaging
- Clinical nutrition
- Occupational therapy
- Speech and language pathology
- Social work
The average length of stay in hospital was 61 days for ILA (range: 5 to 164 days) and the average direct cost was $186,000 per case (range: $19,000 to $552,000). This procedure has a high staffing requirement to monitor patients in hospital, driving up the average cost per case.