Extracorporeal support, during and after lung transplantation: the history of an idea

Fabio Ius, Igor Tudorache, Gregor Warnecke


During recent years, continuous technological innovation has provoked an increase of extracorporeal life support (ECLS) use for perioperative cardiopulmonary support in lung transplantation. Initial results were disappointing, due to ECLS-specific complications and high surgical risk of the supported patients. However, the combination of improved patient management, multidisciplinary team work and standardization of ECLS protocols has recently yielded excellent results in several case series from high-volume transplant centres. Therein, it was demonstrated that, although the prevalence of complications remains higher in supported patients, there may be no difference in long-term graft function between supported and non-supported patients. These results are important, because most of the patients who require ECLS support in lung transplantation are young and have no other chance to survive, but to be transplanted. Moreover, there is no device for “bridging to destination” therapy in lung transplantation. Of note, the evidence in favour of ECLS support in lung transplantation was never validated by randomized controlled trials, but by everyday experience at the patient bed-side. Here, we review the state-of-the-art ECLS evidence for intraoperative and postoperative cardiopulmonary support in lung transplantation.