Harvard Medicine

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A Revamped Septic System

Researchers have developed an artificial spleen that can be used to treat sepsis.<br/><br/>Photo courtesy of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering Sepsis, a systemic infection, can throw the body’s immune system into overdrive, causing widespread damage to organs and tissues. If left unchecked, the condition can prove fatal for young children and anyone with a compromised immune system. Researchers at the Wyss Institute and Children’s Hospital Boston have developed an artificial spleen that can be used to treat sepsis. Just as dialysis clears the blood of wastes, this microengineered device clears pathogens from blood that has been infused with tiny magnetic particles. These particles, coated with opsonins—binding molecules naturally found in blood—latch preferentially onto bacteria and other foreign invaders. A magnetic field in the artificial spleen then traps the particles and their tethered pathogens, effectively removing the pathogens from the body. Cleansed blood, meanwhile, flows back into the patient through a catheter, according to the Wyss Institute’s Donald Ingber. “We’re scaling up to the point of being able to clean hundreds of milliliters of blood per hour,” Ingber says, “and we believe that we can increase this capacity even further.”

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