In 2014, a team of sciencitsts from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University described the development of a new device to treat sepsis that works by mimicking our spleen. It cleanses pathogens and toxins from blood circulating through a dialysis-like circuit. Now, the Wyss Institute team has developed an improved device that synergizes with conventional antibiotic therapies and has been streamlined to better position it for near-term translation to the clinic. The improved design is described in the October 2015 issue (volume 67) of Biomaterials and is available online now. Sepsis is a common, and frequently fatal, medical complication that can occur when a person's body attempts to fight off serious infection. Resulting widespread inflammation can cause organs to shut down, blood pressure to drop, and the heart to weaken. This can lead to septic shock, and more than 30 percent of septic patients in the United States eventually die. In most cases, the pathogen responsible for triggering the septic condition is never pinpointed, so clinicians blindly prescribe an antibiotic course in a blanket attempt to stave off infectious bacteria and halt the body's dangerous inflammatory response. But sepsis can be caused by a wide-ranging variety of pathogens that are not susceptible to antibiotics, including viruses, fungi, and parasites. What's more, even when antibiotics are effective at killing invading bacteria, the dead pathogens fragment and release toxins into the patient's bloodstream.
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