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Doctors can now sift bacteria from your blood using magnets

No antibiotics required.
Andrew Tarantola, @terrortola
December 8, 2016
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Sepsis, or blood poisoning, is no joke. More than half the people who contract the condition end up in the morgue. The conventional treatment involve the liberal application of antibiotics at the first sign of infection, though as we discovered on an American pig farm Wednesday, even our best meds may no longer be enough. And that's where the magnets come in.

A joint research effort between Harvard University, the Empa research group and Adolphe Merkle Institute has resulted in a novel means of purifying blood: they simply suck the bacteria out with magnets. First, the researchers coated antibodies that bind to harmful bacteria with iron particles. When exposed to the bacteria in a solution, the antibodies did what they do and latched on to them. When the solution was subsequently passed through a dialysis machine, magnets literally pulled the antibodies -- and their pathogen passengers -- out of the blood, leaving it clean.

The only issue is that the team has run into is the fact that antibodies are purpose-built. That is, they can only bind to a single type of bacteria. So if you have multiple species of bacteria infecting you, doctors will have to administer multiple rounds of the treatment to get them all. Coincidentally, the Harvard contingent of the research team is closing in on a one-size-fits-all synthetic antibody that can bind to all of the most common bacterial strains responsible for sepsis. This molecule isn't approved for humans yet but Empa has called its effectiveness "promising." There's no timetable yet for when the treatment will be made available for clinical use.

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