Chadds Ford, PA – Dr. Shaffer is most well-known for leading the first clinical trial using oxygen-rich liquid ventilation to help premature infants breathe.
“When I started my career, only about 50 percent of the babies under 1500 grams or 34 weeks of gestational age were surviving,” recalls Dr. Shaffer. “There just wasn't much you could do for them at that time. We hadn’t yet developed the concept of neonatologists and neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Since then, survival outcomes have changed rather dramatically with the intervention of mechanical ventilation and surfactant, but the fundamental problem remains: a very premature baby’s lungs are not ready to breathe air.
Dr. Shaffer developed the initial concept of a system and method for demand-controlled ventilation with oxygen-rich inert liquid.
“No one had ever considered using this inert oxygen-rich liquid in a premature baby,” says Dr. Shaffer. “But babies are living in a liquid environment for nine months: they are surrounded with liquid; their lungs are filled with liquid. When babies are born very prematurely, they have to start breathing gas at a time when their lungs are not prepared for it. So why not address the transition: put the liquid in their lungs as soon as possible so that they will not be damaged by gas in their lungs.”
According to Dr. Shaffer, there are many applications for liquid ventilation, including adult respiratory distress, induction of hypothermia and even advanced cancer treatment. “It has yet to be approved by the FDA,” says Dr. Shaffer.
“You have to be optimistic,” says Dr. Shaffer. “As far as I'm concerned, I believe in this concept as strongly as I believe in gravity. That's how confident I am that liquid ventilation works.”