Artificial spleen could cure Ebola and HIV
Ebola was recently classified as a top priority emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO): the virus has already killed thousands of people in west and central Africa, and a vaccine is not yet available, raising concerns about its spread to other areas of the world. A new device, developed at the Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering promises to bring a cure to this and other diseases by mimicking and enhancing a natural process that happens in our own body.
The spleen is an organ situated in our upper abdomen that filters blood from certain types of bacteria, in addition to removing old blood cells and storing white cells. The device created, which design and function was published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine, makes use of micron-sized beads coated in a protein that selectively binds to bacteria, viruses or toxins. The beads are magnetic, so that as the blood containing them passes through the device, they are filtered together with all the nasty stuff attached.
This artificial spleen was developed to combat sepsis, a condition arising from extensive infection of the blood. As the cause of the latter is not well understood, doctors often prescribe a cocktail of antibiotics that can have negative effects such as increased antibiotic resistance in the body, which may hinder their further application. The device overcomes these difficulties by directly removing the infecting agents of interest.
Its use is expected by the creators to have a decisive effect in the fight against viruses such as Ebola and HIV, and trials on animal models are currently taking place.