A new technology, under development by Argonne National Laboratory, the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute and The University of Chicago Hospitals, will literally cleanse the blood of victims of radiological, chemical or biological insults, whether sustained on the battlefield or from a terrorist attack in a city:
“The best that doctors can do for most biohazard exposure is supportive treatment,” said Michael Kaminski of Argonne ‘s Chemical Engineering Division. “This new system will be designed to directly remove the toxic agents from the bloodstream — quickly and efficiently.”
“Although the immediate focus of the research centers on likely biological, chemical and radiological warfare toxins, the technology could be extended to other medical conditions,” said Axel J. Rosengart of The University of Chicago Hospitals. “The system may lend itself to drug and medication overdose emergencies, for example, or treatment of various chronic or acute illnesses.”
“The key to the technology is biodegradable nanospheres 100 to 5,000 nanometers in diameter,” Kaminski said, “small enough to pass through tiny blood vessels, yet large enough to avoid being filtered from the bloodstream by the kidneys.” One nanometer is one millionth of a meter, about 70,000 times smaller than the diameter of an average human hair.
The particles contain a magnetic iron compound and are coated with a type of polyethylene glycol that prevents white blood cells from attacking them. Attached to the particles’ surfaces are proteins that bind to specific toxic agents. Intravenously injected into the patient, the nanospheres circulate through the bloodstream, where their surface proteins bind to the targeted toxins.
“Once the nanospheres have done their work,” Rosengart said, “they are removed from the bloodstream by a small dual-channel shunt, similar to exchange transfusion tubing, inserted into an arm or leg artery.”
The shunt circulates the blood through an external magnetic separator, where strong magnets immobilize the iron-based particles. Clean blood flows out of the separator and back into the bloodstream.