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Every year, millions of people around the world will fight an ultimately losing battle with sepsis. Indeed, statistics from the Mayo Clinic show that there are anywhere from 200,000 to three million cases of this condition here in the U.S. every year.
While the unfortunate reality is that modern medicine has yet to devise a truly effective treatment for this deadly condition, this may soon change thanks to the remarkable efforts of researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.
What is sepsis?
When a person contracts almost any kind of infection, their body mounts a sort of system-wide inflammatory response. This, in turn, can trigger the onset of sepsis, which is a chain reaction of bodily changes that culminate in organ damage and, quite frequently, death.
While sepsis can be treated with antibiotics able to combat a wide spectrum of bacteria, physicians must still order cell cultures to identify the specific pathogen behind the underlying infection so that a more targeted response can be undertaken. However, this can sometimes take days — something that patients don’t have — or fail altogether.
What have the Harvard researchers done that is so remarkable concerning sepsis?
They have created a machine that is similar to a dialysis machine in that it’s designed to remove otherwise harmful pathogens from the blood of sepsis patients, essentially working in unison with the aforementioned antibiotic regimen.
How exactly does it do this?
Amazingly, the researchers have genetically engineered a blood protein capable of binding to over 90 varieties of dangerous microorganisms and other toxins released by bacteria into the bloodstream upon their death.
Polymer fibers like those used in dialysis machines are coated with this blood protein, and catch these microorganisms and other toxins as blood is passed through the machine. The researchers say the body’s entire volume of blood can be treated in roughly 30 minutes and that multiple rounds over several hours would likely prove necessary.
How long until this remarkable machine is readily available?
The machine, which is funded in part by the Defense Department, has performed well in small animals and is expected to be expanded to large animal trials over the next year. If it performs well at this stage, it’s likely that human testing will commence as soon as possible.
It’s truly exciting to see this potentially game-changing sepsis treatment so close to becoming a reality. It could certainly prove to be one of the major medical breakthroughs of our time.
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