DARPA-backed Wyss Institute sepsis device being readied for human trials

Blood-cleansing device--Courtesy of the Wyss Institute

A device to cleanse circulating blood of pathogens and toxins under development at the Wyss Institute of Harvard University is ready for large animal testing--a precursor to advancing into a human proof-of-concept trial. This is a new iteration of the device that's designed to work with conventional antibiotic therapies in order to offer a more functional design for clinical use.

The device mimics the work of the spleen. Blood flows through a cartridge filled with hollow fibers that are coated with a genetically engineered blood protein. That protein is based on a molecule that occurs naturally in humans called Mannose Binding Lectin (MBL), which is activated by the immune system in the human body to mark toxicities for capture by the immune cells in the spleen.

"The inflammatory cascade that leads to sepsis is triggered by pathogens, and specifically by the toxins they release," Wyss Institute Founding Director Dr. Donald Ingber, who leads the Wyss team developing the device and is a professor of Vascular Biology at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a professor of Bioengineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science, said in a statement.

"Thus, the most effective strategy is to treat with the best antibiotics you can muster, while also removing the toxins and remaining pathogens from the patient's blood as quickly as possible," he added.

In animal studies already conducted, researchers said the device reduced the number of E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and endotoxins circulating in the bloodstream by more than 99%.

"If all goes well, physicians will someday be able to use the device in tandem with standard antibiotic treatments to deliver a one-two punch to pathogens, synergistically killing and cleansing all live and dead invaders from the bloodstream," concluded the paper's first author Tohid Fatanat Didar who is a postdoc at the Wyss Institute and Research Fellow at Boston Children's Hospital.

The research was supported by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. The device is ultimately intended for use in laboratories, hospitals and even on the battlefield.

- here is the statement