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Now, `artificial spleen` to treat blood infections

Washington: Harvard scientists have developed a new `artificial spleen` to treat bloodstream infections - leading cause of death in critically ill patients and soldiers injured in combat.

The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University said that it was awarded a USD 9.25 million contract from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further advance its blood-cleansing technology and help accelerate its translation to humans as a new type of sepsis therapy.

The "Spleen-on-a-chip" device will be used to treat bloodstream infections that are the leading cause of death in critically ill patients, researchers said.

To rapidly cleanse the blood of pathogens, the patient`s blood is mixed with magnetic nanobeads coated with a genetically engineered version of a human blood `opsonin` protein that binds to a wide variety of bacteria, fungi, viruses, parasites, and toxins.

It is then flowed through micro-channels in the device where magnetic forces pull out the bead-bound pathogens without removing human blood cells, proteins, fluids, or electrolytes - much like a human spleen does. The cleansed blood then flows back to the patient.

"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 Wyss founding director and project leader, Don Ingber.

"The continued support from DARPA enables us to advance our device manufacturing capabilities and to obtain validation in large animal models, which is precisely what is required to enable this technology to be moved towards testing in humans," Ingber said in a statement.

The team will work to develop manufacturing and integration strategies for its core pathogen-binding opsonin and Spleen-on-a-Chip fluidic separation technologies, as well as a novel coating technology called "SLIPS".

SLIPS is a super-hydrophobic coating inspired from the slippery surface of a pitcher plant that repels nearly any material it contacts, researchers said.

By coating the inner surface of the channels of the device with SLIPS, blood cleansing can be carried out without the need for anticoagulants to prevent blood clotting.