The increasing incidence of lung disease and progress to end stage respiratory failure has focused attention on the need for lung assist devices. Hollow fibre membrane technology has reached clinical stage and is currently the most widely used when gas exchange of native lungs fail completely. In translation research, three areas of enquiry have emerged, namely, bioengineered lungs, microfluidic technology and photocatalytic oxygenation of blood; these technologies are yet to reach clinical trials. The present photocatalytic oxygenation review has twofold purpose: the first, is to summarize the overall trajectory of lung assist device development, the second, is to describe the evolution of the concept of photocatalytic oxygenation as a potential method of increasing oxygen content of blood. The efforts so far have realized a proof of concept and a 6% increase in the oxygenation of blood with Titanium oxide and Indium tin oxide (TiO2 + ITO) thin film photocatalyst. Photo Hall effect technique is employed to quantify the photocatalytic efficacy. This article reviews fundamental concepts as well as the progress made thus far and presents the challenges that need to be surmounted to realize the full potential of the technology at the bedside. © 2020 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.