Monster Machines: DARPA’s Spleen-On-A-Chip Treats Sepsis

Monster Machines: DARPA’s Spleen-On-A-Chip Treats Sepsis


Blood poisoning is the number one cause of death among critical care patients in the US, killing more than 200,000 people annually. However, a radical new treatment option could transform the way we treat sepsis and save thousands of lives every year.

Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is the result of your immune system overreacting to blood-borne pathogens causing widespread inflamation, vessel leakage, which can lead to multiple-organ shutdown, shock and sometimes death. Even those who live through the ordeal are often left hobbled by amputations or damaged organs.

The normal response against sepsis is the administration of wide-ranging antibiotics to help fight the infection while stabilising the patient’s blood pressure, performing mechanical ventilation or dialysis as needed. The system developed by The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, on the other hand, physically traps and removes pathogens using nanotechnology.

The system was recently awarded a $US9.25 million grant from DARPA to further spur its development and works much like the spleen, helping filter dead cells and pathogens from the blood supply. You can live without the spleen, sure, but it plays an important role in managing your body’s supply of red blood cells and available iron as well as maintaining a reserve of monocytes, which help quell infections and grow into macrophages.


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“In just a few years we have been able to develop a suite of new technologies, and to integrate them to create a powerful new device that could potentially transform the way we treat sepsis,” said Wyss founding director and project leader, Dr. Don Ingber, in a press release. However much more work must be done before this technology is ready to advance from animal trials to human.

[Wikipedia, Harvard, Science Space Robots, NIH]

Pictures: Wyss Institute