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New Technology Could Revolutionize Treatment of Sepsis

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 16 Jul 2014
Image: The microchannel blood processor for preventing sepsis (Photo courtesy of OSU - Oregon State University).
Image: The microchannel blood processor for preventing sepsis (Photo courtesy of OSU - Oregon State University).
A small microchannel device for processing blood could be used to remove problematic endotoxins, helping to prevent sepsis.

Under development by researchers at Oregon State University (OSU; Corvallis, USA), the prototype device is a processor, about the size of a coffee mug, constructed of thousands of microchannels the width of a human hair that provide accelerated heat and mass transfer as fluids move through them. The microchannels are coated with what the researchers called “pendant polymer brushes,” repeating chains of carbon and oxygen atoms anchored to microchannel inner surface that help prevent blood proteins and cells from adhering or coagulating.

On the end of each such pendant chain is a bioactive peptide that binds tightly to the endotoxin and removes it from the blood, which is returned directly back to the patient. The microchannels can be produced in mass quantity and at low cost, stamped onto a range of metals or low-cost polymers, and can used to process a large volume of liquid in a comparatively short time. The low cost would also allow prophylactic treatment anytime there is a concern about sepsis developing, due to an injury, a wound, an operation, or an infection, and before sepsis becomes an issue.

“A big part of the problem with sepsis is that it moves so rapidly; by the time it’s apparent what the problem is, it’s often too late to treat it,” said Prof. Joe McGuire, PhD, head of the OSU department of chemical, biological, and environmental engineering. “If given early enough, antibiotics and other treatments can sometimes, but not always, stop this process. Once these bacterial fragments are in the blood stream the antibiotics won’t always work. You can have successfully eradicated the living bacteria even as you’re dying.”

Sepsis is characterized by a whole-body inflammatory state caused by the immune system's response to a serious infection, most commonly bacteria, but also fungi, viruses, and parasites in the blood, urinary tract, lungs, skin, or other tissues. Common symptoms of sepsis include those related to a specific infection, but usually accompanied by high fevers, hot, flushed skin, elevated heart rate, hyperventilation, altered mental status, swelling, and low blood pressure. Sepsis causes millions of deaths globally each year.

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