Artificial spleen using nanobeads can resolve deadly blood infection rapidly

By Randell Suba , Jun 15, 2013 10:57 AM EDT
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According to statistics, there are about 750,000 cases of severe sepsis in the United States and the mortality rates can go as high as 50 percent. These numbers may change with a new artificial spleen developed by experts from Harvard University.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University received on March a funding worth $9.25 million from the Defense Research Projects Agency or DARPA to push with their developments of a technology that might help people suffering from blood sepsis.

The scientists at Wyss Institute have been working on an artificial spleen that can filter the blood of different pathogens using magnetic nanobeads. The nanobeads, injected to the blood stream, will cling to toxins and harmful microorganisms. . It is able to do this utilizing a genetically altered version of the opsonin protein found in human bloods that naturally help drag toxins, parasites, fungi, viruses, and bacteria out of the human body.

The blood will then be filtered using a device with a magnetic gradient that will attract the nanobeads carrying the pathogens before returning it to the patient's body.

"In just a few years we have been able to develop a suite of new technologies, and to integrate them to create a powerful new device that could potentially transform the way we treat sepsis," said Dr. Don Ingber, founding director of the Wyss Institute, in a press statement.

The device will serve as an artificial spleen that will remove pathogens in the blood without removing electrolytes, proteins, and blood cells in the process just like how the real organ works. The channels of the device is lined with a material developed by scientists at the Wyss Institute called SLIPS or slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces that prevents vital blood components from clotting and sticking to the system of tubes and surfaces.

The technology is also being envisioned to help critically ill patients and soldiers who are injured during combat.

Patients with severe sepsis are given a "shotgun" antibiotic that targets a wide spectrum of harmful organisms while doctors try to pinpoint the cause of sepsis. Figuring out the specific culprit for the sepsis may take days.

"Studies have shown that every hour a patient receives the wrong antibiotic-even a strong broad-spectrum antibiotic-mortality increases by 5 to 9 percent," Ingber said in an interview with MIT Technology Review.

The artificial spleen is currently being tested using large animal models, a step closer to human testing.

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