Robert Bartlett Receives Scientific Achievement Award

January 31, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Accolades and Milestones

A ground-breaking and internationally recognized Michigan Medicine researcher, surgeon, and professor, Robert H. Bartlett, MD, has received the 2018 Earl Bakken Scientific Achievement Award by The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

A pioneer in the field of critical care, Bartlett is best known for developing the lifesaving heart-lung technology known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support by removing blood from the body of the person experiencing heart or lung failure, artificially removing carbon dioxide, and oxygenating red blood cells before returning the blood to the patient.

“Dr. Bartlett helped refine and then define a technology with thoughtful, dogged determination and believed it would work,” said 2017-2018 STS President Richard L. Prager, M.D., a co-director of the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center. “As a result, ECMO has become the dominant short-term life support mechanical technology worldwide. Emergency room doctors use it; cardiologists use it; general surgeons use it; cardiac and thoracic surgeons use it. Because of Dr. Bartlett, many, many lives have been saved.”

In 1975 at the University of California, Irvine, Bartlett successfully treated the first infant patient utilizing ECMO. Five years later, the neonatal ECMO project moved with Dr. Bartlett to the University of Michigan. He continued to develop the technology, and the use of ECMO gradually increased from a few cases each year to several cases each month.

When Bartlett and his team first started using ECMO, the mortality rate for infants with lung failure was 90%; eventually, the survival rate became 90%. Initially used for babies in critical condition, ECMO is now being used more for adults. Approximately 100,000 patients have been on ECMO over the past several decades.

“The concept of using mechanical devices to keep people with no heart or lung function alive is new in the last 50 years,” explained Dr. Bartlett. “Most people thought it was crazy because it was very risky, invasive, and had never been done before. There was a lot of skepticism in the general medical community for a long time. No one believed you could do that, and now we do it routinely.”