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Magnetic Blood Cleaning Procedure Could Save Lives, Star-Trek Style

Here’s a medical innovation that’s pretty amazing: It’s a blood filter that could actually reduce deaths from sepsis in hospitals. The system works by removing dangerous bacteria not by using fine porous filtration, but instead the power of magnets.

Here’s a medical innovation that’s pretty amazing: It’s a blood filter that could actually reduce deaths from sepsis in hospitals. The system works by removing dangerous bacteria not by using fine porous filtration, but instead the power of magnets.

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blood filter

The invention was created by Don Ingber at the Harvard Medical School and Children’s hospital and it’s designed to augment the effect of antibiotics in combating bacterial infections of the blood. These are the infections that apparently kill some 200,000 American citizens each year, so the potential benefits of the treatment could be pretty significant.

Ingber’s technique eschews the traditional fine porous methods for filtering blood, and instead specifically targets the bacteria themselves. Microscopic plastic-coated beads of iron oxide are treated with antibodies that seek out the infecting cells, and attach to them–the beads would be injected into a patient, but in Ingber’s experiments the blood was treated in vitro. Next the blood-bead mix is pushed through a dialysis-type machine, where an electromagnet simply attracts the iron beads, bacterial and all, while the cleaned-up blood cycles on and back into the patient. 

The beauty of the invention is in its simplicity, and the fact that in tests it removed up to 80% of the pathogens, which is enough that the rest can be easily cleared up with traditional antibiotic remedies.

Ingber is confident his technique will perform well when he moves on to animal experimentation later this year, and that it can even be expanded to cover removing cancer cells from blood in a similar style. It’s merely a question of coating the iron microbeads with the right chemicals so they bond to the unwanted target cells. One can even imagine a future where a patient is injected with a concoction of specially engineered filtration beads, each designed to tackle a particular problem–which is a plot trick I’m sure I’ve seen on Star Trek sometimes. 

[via Popular Science]

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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