Magnets used to remove Sepsis-causing bacteria from blood

Sepsis, caused by the immune response overreacting to a bacterial infection, can be a life-threating condition often leading to organ failure.  

Although Bacteria are usually to blame for Sepsis, sometimes the source of the infection can be viruses or microscopic fungi. An infection anywhere in the body can trigger Sepsis, however the most serious cases are when it spreads to the bloodstream. The cause of Sepsis can therefore be very challenging to identify and because of this, it can be difficult to treat. However, researchers have found a possible new way to treat these infections by using magnets to remove these deadly germs from the blood.

To identify the germ responsible for the infection, doctors usually collect a sample of blood and send it to the lab where technicians multiply the microbes allowing them to identify the germ. This is a very time consuming process and during this time the Sepsis can become worse. However, the new idea for attacking these infections, currently being tested by researchers, could mean that the infection can be treated more quickly, even before the germ is identified.

As the immune system works by using antibodies to latch onto and attack the germ as they are carried around the blood, a group of American researchers have developed a single antibody which have the ability to recognize nine of the ten most common Sepsis-causing bacteria. Taking this one step further, the researchers developed a way to make the antibody stick to tiny particles of iron oxide. The researchers reasoned that if these antibody-coated iron bits were mixed into a patient’s blood, bacteria should stick to them. Magnets could then be used to pull the iron particles from the blood, along with the bacteria.

In the future, this germ-filtering method could potentially be used as a treatment outside of the body by pumping infected blood through a machine before using magnets in the machine to remove the germs as they become coated with the iron-oxide and antibody mixture. The other benefit of this method would be that the magnetic filtering would concentrate the bacteria, speeding up the process of identification and allowing doctors to treat patients more quickly.

As this is a relatively new idea which has only been tested on cells and blood-like solutions, further research is required. Magnetic germ removal has not been tested on animals or people yet and this could highlight possible weaknesses with this method. In addition, it has been argued that treating a patient using this method could take huge amounts of tiny iron particles, which could be another potential impracticality.

Although further testing is required, this is a fantastic piece of research which could contribute to improving the methods for treating Sepsis, a condition which effects many people around the world.

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