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Engineering a better quality of life for COPD patients

If you’ve seen the growing number of TV ads for breathing devices, it won’t surprise you that the National Institutes of Health now ranks chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

COPD includes a suite of progressive and incurable illnesses, led by emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which reduce the quantity of air flowing in and out of the lungs. This reduction occurs when the tiny airways in the lung lose their elasticity, fill with mucus or become inflamed, or when the walls between airways are destroyed.

To get the oxygen they need, COPD patients were once confined to their beds and connected by breathing tubes to machines filled with compressed oxygen. To leave their homes, they had to carry a cylinder of oxygen or haul a tank on a dolly.

In the past two decades, portable, battery-operated medical oxygen concentrators (MOCs) weighing six to eight pounds have enabled many COPD patients to carry on daily activities and even travel.

Mayuresh Kothare, Shivaji Sircar and their students have developed a bench-scale model of an MOC that they believe will significantly exceed the performance of commercially available MOCs and improve the quality of life for COPD patients.

Kothare, the R. L. McCann Professor and department chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Sircar, adjunct professor in the department, have spent five years working on the project. Kothare specializes in constrained and optimal predictive control theory. Sircar, a leading expert in adsorption science and technology for gas separation, has many years of industrial experience.

The group has been issued one patent with a second pending on a technology that would reduce an MOC’s weight while increasing its ability to recover oxygen from the air. In 2011, with help from Lehigh’s Office of Technology Transfer, the researchers won $200,000 in funding from the University Science Center in Philadelphia.

Read the full story in the Lehigh University News Center.

-Kurt Pfitzer is a writer with Lehigh University Media Relations.

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