Prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS are all potentially lethal diseases that affect hundreds of thousands each year. But Sepsis, a deadly immune response triggered by infection, kills more people than all of them combined.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than a million people suffer from sepsis each year in the United States and between 30-50 percent die from the condition.
Mike Super says there is no approved therapy for sepsis, which is why he and a team of scientists at Harvard's Wyss Institute are attempting to develop one.
"The current standard of therapy is to give antibiotics and fluids. But what we are talking about here is treatment for sepsis and that is what is missing," said Super, a senior staff scientist at Harvard's Wyss Institute.
According to Super, what is missing is a way to rapidly cleanse the bloodstream of dangerous pathogens before they trigger a deadly inflammatory response that could damage blood vessels and lead to organ failure.
The scientists are using a dialysis system to filter the blood through a tube filled with mesh of tiny fibers that are coated with Super's secret weapon - an engineered protein called fcMBL.
"What's nice about proteins like this fcMBL from the innate immune system is that they bind the sugars which are part of the cell wall of the pathogens. They bind to the cell wall of bacteria, of fungi, of many viruses and many parasites and they bind to toxins as well," Super said.
"We are coating the inside of the tubes with that protein and we are running the infected blood from the patient through that, through the filter and binding, absorbing, capturing the pathogens that are in that blood so that the blood that is going back to the patient is cleansed," he added.
The patients right now are large animal models and rat models before that. In the rat trials, the system was more than 99 percent effective in filtering out deadly bacteria.
The researchers hope to start human trials in the near future. The next step towards developing an effective treatment for one of the world's leading killers.