When the momentum has gone: what will be the role of extracorporeal lung support in the future?

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Purpose of reviewThere has been expanding interest in and use of extracorporeal support in respiratory failure concurrent with technological advances and predominantly observational data demonstrating improved outcomes. However, until there is more available data from rigorous, high-quality randomized studies, the future of extracorporeal support remains uncertain.Recent findingsOutcomes for patients supported with extracorporeal devices continue to show favorable trends. There are several large randomized controlled trials that are in various stages of planning or completion for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) and extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal (ECCO2R) in the acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which may help clarify the role of this technology for these disease processes, and which stand to have a significant impact on a large proportion of patients with acute respiratory failure. Novel applications of extracorporeal lung support include optimization of donor organ quality through ex-vivo perfusion and extracorporeal cross-circulation, allowing for multimodal therapeutic interventions.SummaryDespite the ongoing rise in ECMO use for acute respiratory failure, its true value will not be known until more information is gleaned from prospective randomized controlled trials. Additionally, there are modalities beyond the current considerations for extracorporeal support that have the potential to revolutionize respiratory failure, particularly in the realm of chronic lung disease and lung transplantation.

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