Information for Medical Students


Purpose. Welcome to the extracorporeal life support laboratory. Our research is in cardiopulmonary physiology, pathophysiology, and bioengineering. The goal of all the projects in the laboratory is to improve the treatment of acute organ failure with mechanical devices including extracorporeal circulation. (If you don’t understand these terms, that is your first assignment.) Over the last 40 years, hundreds of students at all levels have worked in the ECLS lab. Most of them have gone on to careers in medicine, bioengineering and related fields.

There are two purposes for student participation in the ECLS lab: to enhance your education and to help us conduct research.

Your education.Your primary purpose is to learn about research; what it is, how to do it, what knowledge and background is required, and which people are successful at it. Research is the study of a problem until it is solved. Some research is “pure science”; seeking an answer to a problem simply for the sake of doing it (solving a mathematical puzzle for example). Our research is “applied science”; solving a problem to improve human life (building an electric car for example). Applied science in medicine is called “translational” research; the goal is to prevent or treat human illness. You will learn about this process by participating in it.

You will be working with colleagues at all levels of education and career planning. Some are students in high school, college, medical school, engineering school and other disciplines. Some are physicians in specialty training (residents). Some are career professionals advancing their education (doctors, engineers, nurses, respiratory therapists, and “post doctoral fellow” positions). The people in charge are career scientists in many fields who devote all or part of their time to biomedical research. This is a unique opportunity to learn what it takes to get to the next level, from people who have been successful at doing it. In the process you will learn many lessons about life, including how to pursue your own personal goals. One of the most important lessons you will learn is whether a career in science is for you, or not. Some of our most successful students who are now lawyers, teachers, artists, or businessmen learned that a career in science was not for them.

You help us conduct our research.There are several research projects running in the laboratory. You will learn about all of them, participate in a few of them, and focus on one specific project. Some of the current projects are:

  • Developing a pediatric implantable artificial lung
  • Temporary replacement of heart or lung function
  • Creating artificial plastic surfaces that cannot clot when exposed to blood
  • The use of mechanical devices to enhance the function of organs used for transplantation
  • The use of mechanical devices to keep organs alive outside of the body for a prolonged period
  • Making an artificial placenta to treat premature infants
  • Determining the cause of blood damage by mechanical devices
  • Breathing liquid fluorocarbon to treat lung failure

Each project has its own background recorded in the scientific literature, a research team, specific goals and milestones, an experimental model (a standardized test system), a schedule, financial support, and a clinical application (is intended to be used for human patients). You will be assigned to one or more of these projects.

Our research includes in vitro or “bench” testing (non biologic systems), and also in vivo (animal) testing. There are many research questions, particularly in the field of cardiopulmonary physiology and artificial organs that can only be studied in live animals. It is a privilege to be able to conduct research in animals and we treat it very seriously. We use bench methods whenever possible, and finally test the results in animals. We study domestic animals (rabbits, pigs, and sheep). The species of animal is chosen to simulate human physiology and pathophysiology. We are very careful to provide humane treatment including anesthesia and animal comfort measures, but all the animals die at the end of the experiments. You will learn a lot about laboratory animal management during your stay in the laboratory. If you cannot personally participate in animal research for any reason, just let us know and we will assign you to a bench project. Hundreds of thousands of people are alive because of animal research, but there are those who do not understand this, and those who think it should be prohibited. When you are discussing your laboratory project with friends and family, explain the conduct and importance of animal research when you have the opportunity.


People you will work with in the laboratory:

Doctors who treat patients, teach in the medical school and direct our research projects:

  • Robert Bartlett – Surgery
  • Ronald Hirschl – Surgery
  • Jonathan Haft – Surgery
  • William Lynch - Surgery
  • George Mychaliska – Surgery
  • Robert Neumar - Emergency Medicine
  • Gabe Owens - Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases
  • Kagan Ozer - Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Joseph Potkay PhD - Biomedical Engineering
  • Jeff Punch – Surgery
  • Alvaro Rojas – Surgery
  • Alex Thompson PhD - Biomedical Engineering
  • Elizabeth Brisbois PhD - Surgery and Chemistry

ECLS Laboratory Staff

  • Cindy Cooke
  • Marie Cornell
  • Lisa Haynes
  • Joseph Hill
  • Josh Jung
  • Mark Langley
  • Orsi Lautner-Csorba
  • Terry Major
  • Candace Walls
  • McKenzie Hayes
  • John Toomasian CCP

Research Fellows

  • Billy Weir MD
  • Jackie Kading 
  • Emre Gok MD

Our laboratory has major affiliations with the laboratory of Dr. Mark Meyerhoff, PhD in chemistry and with Michigan Critical Care Consultants, Inc. (MC3), a bioengineering research and development company.

You will be working with many students, currently in high school, college, medical school, or engineering school.

Laboratory schedule. There is a laboratory meeting every Thursday at 4PM where all the projects are reviewed and discussed. The schedule for experiments is defined at this meeting and you may be assigned to work on other projects depending on the schedule. Your primary project will have a research team headed by the research fellows. The lab team will have its own schedule of experiments and meetings to review data and prepare presentations and publications.

There are weekly meetings devoted to students in the laboratory.

Your own work schedule will depend on the research project, not on clock hours. You are expected to be present when the experiments on your project are going on, even if those experiments begin early and run overnight. If there are no experiments or data reviews planned for your specific project, you will be assigned to, or may join into, other experiments underway on that day. You will probably be assigned to some overnight experiments from time to time. If you will be gone from the laboratory on any day, just let your team leader know.

Your role on the research team. Get thoroughly educated on the background and current status of your project. Learn to read the literature and understand the methods. Always ask yourself the question “why are we doing this?”. You should know the ultimate clinical goal and the immediate research goal of each step of the project. Keep a personal research notebook recording the events on your project. Your team leader will keep the official records, you keep your own notebook for future reference. You will have a personal project which is a small part of the overall research project. This will be narrow in scope but manageable within a few weeks or months. You may eventually present this project at a research meeting or even bring it to publication.

Stipends. Most of the students in the laboratory will receive academic credit if they are enrolled at the University of Michigan, or a small financial stipend. You should consider the stipend a small payment for your laboratory activities (not an hourly salary).

Publications. If your research project is done well, and if it answers an important scientific question, we will present it at scientific meetings and publish it in a scientific journal. If you made a major contribution you will be included as an author on the paper. (The paper might be published months or years after your own participation in the laboratory). Having your name as an author on published papers is a major benefit of working in the laboratory and will enhance your chances of progressing to the next step in your career.

Clinical application of your research. Your time will be spent completely in the laboratory, but the goal is to prevent or treat human illness. From time to time you will have an opportunity to visit the hospital and see some of the results of previous research. In future years you may wish to do research experiments involving humans (clinical research).

Learn about scientific research, learn about the people who do it, learn about yourself, make new friends, and have fun.