One of the typical tropes of the vampire movie is the "blood cleansing" scene, where vampires are cured by running their blood through a purification device. Now this grisly gothic idea has become a reality — and could ease the suffering of Ebola victims.
Image from the "blood cleansing" scene in Near Dark.
The device is called an artificial spleen, and it works by replacing antibiotic treatments with something dramatically different: tiny magnets coated in a protein that sticks to pathogens in the blood, including viruses, fungus, and more. The blood is then purified by running it through a device that draws all the magnets out of the blood, and the pathogens with them.
Carl Engelking at Discover explains:
When our immune system fights an infection, the dying virus releases toxins into the bloodstream that can cause sepsis, a life-threatening immune response. Doctors can't always pinpoint the specific pathogen that causes sepsis, so they use antibiotics to carpet-bomb the bloodstream, a strategy that's not always effective and can lead to drug-resistance.
The new device, dubbed an "artificial spleen," instead mechanically clears pathogens from the bloodstream, thereby reducing reliance on heavy doses of antibiotics. Its trick lies in magnetic nanobeads coated with a modified human protein. This protein binds to sugar molecules on the surfaces of more than 90 different bacteria, viruses and fungi, as well as to the toxins released by dead bacteria.
When those nanobeads are mixed with infected blood they adhere to pathogens, and then, as the blood passes through channels inside the device, magnets pull out the beads with pathogens attached. Clean blood is routed back into the patient.
I can't wait to see a vampire movie where doctors use nanobeads to pull the nasties out of vampire blood. Until then, I look forward to a world where devices like the artificial spleen could ween us off our dependence on antibiotics — and help treat many diseases in the process.
Read more at Discover