The new device rids the blood of bacteria, fungi, viruses and toxins using nanoscale-size magnetic beads. Cynthia Graber reports
Sepsis is a potentially deadly inflammatory condition caused by infections. Muppet creator Jim Henson was a famous victim. Proper treatment of sepsis can require knowing what bacteria or virus caused the infection. But the identification can take days, and by that time it’s often too late. Some eight million people die of sepsis annually worldwide.
Now, scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute of Biologically Inspired Engineering have come up with a device that cleans blood—without a need to diagnose the infectious agent. What’s being called the bio-spleen seems to work even for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In the device, blood is cycled outside the patient’s body and gets filtered through microfluidic channels. The channels nanoscale-sized magnetic beads attached to an immune system protein. The protein naturally latches onto bacteria, fungi, viruses, and toxins.
Then magnets pull the magnetic beads out of the blood, taking the attached pathogens and toxins along for the ride. The cleansed blood then flows back into the patient.
The researchers tested the system on human blood, and then on infected rats. In the trial, 90 percent of the treated rats recovered. Only 14 percent of the controls survived. The research is in the journal Nature Medicine. [Joo H. Kang et al, An extracorporeal blood-cleansing device for sepsis therapy]
The scientists hope to quickly scale up to human trials and ultimately develop a version that could find a place in the emergency room armamentarium.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]