When a patient has sepsis, a life-threatening condition in which bacteria or fungi multiply in the blood, things can become rapidly life threatening. A new technological device has been designed that is inspired by the human spleen. It has been developed by a team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the new device may radically alter the way medical professionals treat sepsis.
The device is called a “biospleen” and it has gone way beyond the team’s initial expectations with the ability to cleanse human blood. The apparatus was tested in the laboratory and has increased the survival rates in animals with infected blood, as reported in Nature Medicine.
In only a relatively short period of time, the device can filter dead and live pathogens from the blood, as well as filtering dangerous toxins, which are released from the pathogens.
At least 8 million people worldwide each year are killed from Sepsis. It is the leading cause of hospital deaths. Michael Super, senior staff scientist at the Wyss Institute said, “We need a new approach.” “Even with the best current treatments, sepsis patients are dying in intensive care units at least 30 percent of the time.”
Sepsis occurs when a patient’s immune system overreacts to a bloodstream infection, thereby triggering a reaction which can cause inflammation, blood clotting, organ damage, and eventually death. The issue can arise from a variety of infections, including appendicitis and urinary tract infections, as well as from surgical equipment such as contaminated IV lines and catheters.
Super, who was part of the team led by Wyss Institute Director Don Ingber that also included Wyss Institute Technology Development Fellow Joo Kang and colleagues from the Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School.
Kang, who is also a research associate at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and a research fellow in the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, started with the team to construct a fluidic device, which works outside of the body like a dialysis machine, removing living and dead microbes of different variants, as well as toxins. The team modelled the Biospleen after the micro-architecture of the human.
The biospleen is a microfluidic device, which is made up of two adjacent hollow channels that are connected to each other by a series of slits. One channel contains flowing blood and the other channel has a saline solution, which collects and removes the pathogens that traverse across the slits. The key to the success of this new device are tiny nanometer-sized magnetic beads that are coated with a genetically engineered version of a natural immune system protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL).
Ingber, the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology at Harvard Medical School and the Vascular Biology Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as professor of bioengineering at SEAS, said, “Sepsis is a major medical threat, which is increasing because of antibiotic resistance. We’re excited by the biospleen because it potentially provides a way to treat patients quickly without having to wait days to identify the source of infection, and it works equally well with antibiotic-resistant organisms…We hope to move this towards human testing to advancing to large animal studies as quickly as possible.”
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[Image via: closeupengineering]