Using A Roller Pump for Establishing Extra-Corporal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) – Technical Considerations for Times of Crisis

Perfusion. 2021 Feb 26. Online ahead of print


The COVID-19 pandemic requires thinking about alternatives to establish ECMO when often-limited hardware resources are exhausted. Heart-lung-machines may potentially be used for ECMO but contain roller pumps as compared to centrifugal pumps in ECMO-circuits. We here tested roller pumps as rescue pump for ECMO-establishment.


We set up in vitro circuits on roller pumps from C5 heart-lung-machine with 5 l/minutes flow. In two series, we placed either PVC or silicon tubing for an ECMO circuit into the roller pump. We assessed the mechanical stress on the tubing (aiming to run the pump for at least 1 week), measured the temperature increase generated by the friction and assessed flow characteristics and its measurement in simulated situations resembling tube kinking and suction.


The roller pumps led to expected and unexpected adverse events. PVC tubing burst between 36 and 78 hours, while silicon tubing lasted for at least 7 days. At 7 days, the silicone tubing showed significant signs of roller pump wear visible on the outside. The inside, however, was free of surface irregularities. Using these tubings in a roller pump led to a remarkable increase in circuit temperature (PVC: +12.0°C, silicone +2.9°C). Kinking or suction on the device caused the expected dramatic flow reduction (as assessed by direct measurement) while the roller pump display continued to show the preset flow. The roller pump is therefore not able to reliably determine the true flow rate.


Roller pumps with silicone tubing but not PVC tubing may be used for running ECMO circuits. Silicone tubing may endure the roller pump shear forces for up to 1 week. Thus, repeated tubing repositioning may be a solution. Circuit heating and substantial limitations in flow detection should increase attention if clinical use in situations of crisis is considered.