An experimental method for treating blood poisoning, or sepsis, is being tested at Children's Hospital (Boston). Based on the use of magnetic beads and magnets to draw out harmful organisms from infected blood, the therapy holds promise for curing a condition that kills approximately half of its victims—often within a few hours. The treatment relies on tiny magnetic beads coated with an antibody for attracting the bacteria invading the blood system. First, the blood is removed from the body through a small tube made from a fine, meshlike material, beside which is another tube with salt water flowing through it. After removal from the body, the blood is mixed with the magnetic beads, which attract passing bacteria. Then an external magnet is activated, pulling the beads and the bacteria through the mesh wall into the salt water. Finally, the clean blood is pumped back into the body, while the bacteria are discarded. Sepsis develops rapidly when bacteria get into the body through wounds or infections in the ears, lungs, or urinary tract. Particularly dangerous to the very young, the elderly, and the sick, the ailment is caused by toxin-producing organisms that damage cells. Some of the organisms attack the walls of small blood vessels, causing them to leak and resulting in a severe drop in blood pressure. Starved of blood, major organs begin to shut down. By gradually removing the patient's blood and treating it outside the body, the new method for curing sepsis aims at preventing the overproduction of cytokines, proteins generated by the immune system that are supposed to ward off infection. However, in the case of sepsis, such large quantities of cytokines are produced that they not only attack dangerous bacteria but healthy cells as well. This reaction, in turn, causes inflammation deep within the body. Don Ingber, a doctor who helped develop the technology, remarks, "It offers a potentially new weapon to fight pathogens in septic children and adults. It works simply by removing the source of the infection."
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