child in hospital with doctorSurgeons at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD) (Norfolk, Va) last week announced they fitted a patient with a vacuum device as a noninvasive treatment for pectus excavatum, the most common congenital deformity of the chest wall, which is usually repaired through surgery.

“CHKD has always made efforts to minimize surgical intervention and I believe this could eliminate the need for surgery in some pectus excavatum patients,” said Robert J. Obermeyer, MD, who is leading the project at CHKD. Obermeyer has been instrumental in bringing the technology to the United States. “Years from now, we may look at the surgeries and realize that many of these conditions could have been corrected with vacuum devices.”

The vacuum bell device looks something like a large, silicone doughnut, with a bulb attached to remove air pressure. It must be fitted to each patient and fit snugly on the chest. The bulb is used to create a vacuum inside the device, which slowly pulls up the depressed area of cartilage, much like devices used in auto-body shops to pop out dents.

When the device is used about an hour a day, the depression in the chest reaches close to the maximum correction after 3 to 6 months of use. The patient must continue to use it for about 2 years to make the correction permanent, similar to wearing a retainer after one’s teeth are straightened.

The vacuum bell has been used in Europe for several years, and research suggests that the correction might be permanent, according to the hospital. Obermeyer visited pectus specialists in Switzerland who used the vacuum bell, toured the production facility where the devices are manufactured, and helped expedite its categorization by the FDA as a class 1 medical device, which allows for sale and use in the United States.