Recycled Anesthetic Technology Saves Dollars, Environment

Dr. James Berry and Dr. Leland Lancaster have developed a recycling system that collects and reuses anesthesiology gases.
Dr. James Berry and Dr. Leland Lancaster have developed a recycling system that collects and reuses anesthesiology gases.

 More than 500,000 gallons of anesthetic are released into the atmosphere in the United States each year at a huge cost both financially and environmentally. What if you could collect the air that contains exhaled anesthetic and condense it, allowing it to be captured and recycled?

That was the idea behind an invention by Dr. James Berry, professor of anesthesiology, along with Dr. Leland Lancaster, assistant in anesthesiology, and Dr. Steve Morris of the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Their new technology, called the Dynamic Gas Scavenging System (DGSS), could have an impact on the environment and on health-care economics.

“Vanderbilt spends $1 million a year on anesthetic,” says Berry. “It is given to patients, then discarded, but it costs $2,000 per gallon. My idea was that we can do better.”

The DGSS can recover 99 percent of anesthetics without chemically altering them in the process. Berry’s company, Anesthetic Gas Reclamation LLC, created the technology, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been instrumental in its development by providing a testing site in four operating rooms. VUMC is the first in the country to do pilot testing with the DGSS system, and the first in the world to recycle anesthetics via condensation, says Berry.

He formulated his idea for a recycling system in the 1980s when he first began studying anesthesia and noticed the pipe on the roof of the hospital where anesthetic was released. 

“I thought, ‘What a waste. There’s got to be a better way.’”

With the new technology, the exhaust system is activated only when the patient exhales and used anesthetic appears. “Now there is a lot less air, which is richer in anesthetic, and it’s energy-saving because the exhaust pump can be much smaller,” says Berry.

The system is designed to work with any anesthesia machine. One system costs $20,000 and can serve up to eight operating rooms. Energy savings also result because the vacuum pump only runs 10 percent of the time, as opposed to 90 percent with the old system. 

The next step involves investigating how to manufacture and commercialize the system. Berry hopes to get FDA approval for a generic recycled anesthetic that could be sold for a significantly lower price.

“There are 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. I’d like to see at least half implement this technology,” Berry says. “We envision giving the machines away for free, just to get CO2 credits and the anesthetic. It’s highly efficient, it’s not emitting greenhouse gas into the environment, and it’s inexpensive. It’s not only good, but it’s practical.”

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