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Ebola-fighting Device Announced Out of Harvard

A new "biospleen" device being developed by scientists at Harvard University may help Ebola patients, according to a recent Washington Post article.

Researchers at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering developed the blood-cleansing device to combat sepsis. More than a decade earlier, other scientists wrote in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that some aspects of the Ebola virus mimic the activity of severe bacterial infections, leading to septic shock, in which the patient has extremely low blood pressure that supplemental fluids cannot adequately raise.

A variety of infections can lead to sepsis, in which a patient's immune system overreacts to a bloodstream infection and triggers a chain reaction of inflammation, blood clotting, organ damage, and death, according to a Harvard statement about the biospleen.

The new device works by mixing "magnetic nanobeads coated with an engineered human opsonin--mannose-binding lectin (MBL)--that captures a broad range of pathogens and toxins without activating complement factors or coagulation. Magnets pull the opsonin-bound pathogens and toxins from the blood; the cleansed blood is then returned back to the individual," the Harvard scientists wrote in a recent issue of Nature Medicine.

After only five hours of filtering,the biospleen cleared more than 90% of bacteria from the blood of rats infected with S. aureus or E. coli, reduced the penetration of pathogens and immune cells into multiple organs, and lowered inflammatory cytokine levels, the Nature Medicine article said. The device is effective against 90 ailments, including ebola, E. coli and HIV, the Post article said.

The research team built a fluidic device that works like a dialysis machine and removes all varieties of living and dead microbes and toxins, the Harvard statement said, enabling them to approach pathogens in a novel way.

"We didn't have to kill the pathogens," Mike Super, senior staff scientist at the Wyss Institute, said in the Harvard statement. "We just captured and removed them." 

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at MD&M Chicago, October 15-16, 2014, and MD&M Minneapolis, October 29-30, 2014.

Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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