A team of engineers at Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis, say that they have developed a new technology that could revolutionize treatment and prevention of sepsis. Commonly called “blood poisoning,” sepsis can quickly grow from a modest infection into a whole-body inflammation, which can lead to multiple organ failure and death. When treatment is started early enough, it can sometimes be successfully treated with antibiotics, but the mortality rate for the condition is still about 28 to 50 percent.

In this graphic image of a device used to prevent sepsis, coatings inside microchannels help remove bacterial fragments and endotoxins in blood as it flows through. (Credit: Christina Ullman, Oregon State University)

The researchers usedmicrochannel technology and special coatings to create a small device through which blood could be processed, removing the endotoxins and preventing sepsis. This technology could finally offer another way to tackle sepsis other than antibiotics, they said.

Their technology doesn’t just kill bacteria and leave fragments behind; it sticks to and removes the circulating bacteria and endotoxin particles that may trigger a sepsis reaction. They plan to emboss the device out of low-cost polymers, so that it can be used once and then discarded. In addition, the low cost would also allow treatment even before sepsis is apparent. It’s important to stay ahead of the problem, because sepsis progresses so rapidly.

The approach being developed at the OSU College of Engineering is to move blood through a very small processor, about the size of a coffee mug, and literally grab the endotoxins and remove them. The device’s microchannels provide accelerated heat and mass transfer as fluids move through them, which are the width of a human hair. The researchers say that they can be produced in mass quantity at low cost, stamped onto a range of metals or plastics, and used to process a large volume of liquid in a comparatively short time.

In the OSU system, blood is pumped through thousands of microchannels coated with what researchers call “pendant polymer brushes,” with repeating chains of carbon and oxygen atoms anchored on the surface. This helps prevent blood proteins and cells from sticking or coagulating. On the end of each pendant chain is a peptide, or bioactive agent, that binds tightly to the endotoxin and removes it from the blood, which then goes directly back to the patient.