An artificial spleen might be the high-tech answer to issues like E. coli and Ebola. Researchers have developed a device that can clean the blood and rid the body of dangerous infections.
Treating blood infections is a difficult task and can lead to other issues like sepsis, an immune response that can become fatal. Nature reports that more than half of the time, doctors aren't able to diagnose what infection led to sepsis, so they treat the patient with antibiotics that are able to fight a large range of bacteria. However, this isn't always effective and can lead to antibiotic resistance.
Donald Ingber, a bioengineer at the Wyss Institute, developed a biospleen that can filter blood. The research team modified a human protein called mannose-binding lectin (MBL), which binds sugar molecules to the surface of more than 90 different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and the toxins released by dead bacteria. The MBL was used to coat magnetic nanobeads. So, when blood enters the biospleen, it pass through the nano beads, which then bind to most pathogens. The device uses magnets to pull the beads and the pathogens they've caught out of the blood.
The team tested the device on rats infected with E. coli or Staphylococcus aureus. Five hours after being infected, 89 percent of the rats who had been treated with the biospleen were still alive, compared to 14 percent of those that went untreated. Researchers found that the device removed 90 percent of the bacteria from the rats' blood. Those treated with the biospleen also had less inflammation, which suggests that they would be less likely to develop sepsis.
To test if the biospleen could handle the volume of blood found in the average adult human, they ran 5 litters of human blood mixed with bacteria and fungi through the device at a rate of one liter per hour. Within five hours, the biospleen had removed most of the pathogens.
Ingber notes that this rate is probably enough to fight off an infection, as once the biospleen has removed the majority of the bacteria, the body's immune system and antibiotics should be able to fight off the rest. He adds that the device could aid in treating viral diseases such as HIV and Ebola, since survival is dependent on lowering the virus flowing through blood to a negligible level. The team is now testing the biospleen on pigs.
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