Newswise — Sepsis, an infection of the blood, can quickly overwhelm the body's defenses and is responsible for more than 200,000 deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Premature newborns and people with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable. Since most existing treatments are ineffective, researchers in the Vascular Biology Program at Children's Hospital Boston have come up with a first line of defense -- using magnetism to quickly pull pathogens out of the blood.

Their blood-cleansing device, developed by Chong Wing Yung, PhD, a researcher in the laboratory of Don Ingber, MD, PhD, is described in the journal Lab on a Chip. (The article can be accessed at, and is scheduled for formal online publication on April 13).

The system they envision will work like this: The patient's blood is drawn, and tiny magnetic beads, pre-coated with antibodies against specific pathogens (such as the fungus Candida albicans) are added. The blood is then run through a microfluidic system in which two liquid flow streams run side by side without mixing -- one containing blood, the other a saline-based collection fluid. The beads bind to the pathogens, and a magnet then pulls them (along with the pathogens) into the collection fluid, which is ultimately discarded, while the cleansed blood in reintroduced into the patient.

Tested with contaminated human blood, a device with four parallel collection modules achieved over 80 percent clearance of fungi in a single pass, at a flow rate and separation efficiency that would be viable for clinical applications. Yung and Ingber estimate that a scaled-up system with hundreds of channels could cleanse the blood of an infant within several hours.

" This blood-cleansing microdevice offers a potentially new weapon to fight pathogens in septic infants and adults, that works simply by removing the source of the infection and thereby enhancing the patient's response to existing antibiotics," says Ingber.

Yung, Ingber and physicians Mark Puder, MD, PhD, and Jay Wilson, MD from the Department of Surgery at Children's Hospital Boston, with collaborators from Draper Laboratories, recently won a $500,000 grant from the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) to further the work. The next phase will be to test the device in an animal model.

The study was funded by CIMIT, with additional resources from Harvard University's Center for Nanoscale Systems (CNS) and the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) initiative. The article can be accessed at: Children's Hospital Boston is home to the world's largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 500 scientists, including eight members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 13 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Children's research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Children's Hospital Boston today is a 397-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care grounded in the values of excellence in patient care and sensitivity to the complex needs and diversity of children and families. Children's also is the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

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Lab on a chip