Blood-cleansing “Artificial Spleen” Technology Could Increase Survival Odds for the Future

Prototype’s novel approach uses magnetic nano-sized beads to filter deadly microbes and toxins from the bloodstream

Sepsis—a life-threatening over-reaction by the immune system to infection—afflicts 18 million people a year worldwide and kills between 30 and 50 percent of them. Sepsis poses a significant threat to warfighters who suffer combat injuries that predispose them to infection. Antibiotics can kill sepsis-inducing microbes but their overuse is contributing to the threat of drug-resistant microbes and they don’t neutralize the toxins that some pathogens leave behind. Commercial dialysis equipment can remove toxins from the blood but is not built for routine use in theater.

DARPA’s Dialysis-Like Therapeutics (DLT) program seeks to develop integrated, portable and ruggedized technology that would enable widespread deployment of dialysis treatment to fight sepsis. The program recently tested a novel prototype that could greatly advance sepsis treatment and lead to increased survival of future sepsis patients. As reported in Nature Medicine (, the DLT program successfully demonstrated one of the first technologies for pathogen removal via blood filtration. With a design inspired by the human spleen, the shoebox-sized prototype removes many of the microbes and toxins that can trigger sepsis.

“Sepsis is a massive problem for both civilian and military healthcare, which is why DARPA set out to develop more effective and portable technologies for sepsis treatment,” said U.S.Army Col. Matt Hepburn, DARPA program manager. “Our ‘artificial spleen’ prototype shows a promising new way to fight sepsis more quickly and thoroughly. The technology is also small and light, and usable either on its own or with commercial dialysis equipment.”

Eventually, Hepburn added, DLT could preclude the need to fully identify a bacterium or test whether it is antibiotic resistant—which can take hours or days—before beginning treatment. “We’re hopeful that this new technology could give doctors new tools to save lives in the future,” he said.

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