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19 October 2019
FITTER. BETTER. HAPPIER.
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Doctors Treat a Fatal Condition Using Magnets to “Pull” Bacteria From Blood

Adios, antibiotics!
by Kristin Houser / December 08 2016

Making Magnetic Bacteria

Contract sepsis, and you’re almost as likely to end up six feet under as you are back on your feet again. This often fatal condition also known as “blood poisoning” is usually caused by the body’s overwhelming response to a bacterial infection, and it’s typically treated with antibiotics. Now, researchers from Harvard University, the Empa research group, and Adolphe Merkle Institute have come up with a better way to fight back against sepsis.

At the core of their treatment method are magnets. The researchers coated antibodies that bind to dangerous bacteria with iron particles before introducing them to the sepsis-causing bacteria in a solution. After the antibodies were bound to the bacteria, the solution was run through a dialysis machine, and magnets literally pulled the iron-coated antibodies and bacteria right out of the solution, leaving it free of that bacteria.

Unfortunately, the antibodies we current have can only latch on to one type of bacteria, so the method would need to be repeated if more than one type is causing the sepsis. However, researchers at Harvard are working on a synthetic antibody that would bind to most common types of bacteria that cause sepsis, so eventually, a single treatment could be enough.

Bacteria can be removed by magnetic blood purification (left). A suspension with magnetic iron particles (top right) can be "cleaned" using a magnet (bottom right). Credit: Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology
Bacteria can be removed by magnetic blood purification (left). A suspension with magnetic iron particles (top right) can be “cleaned” using a magnet (bottom right). Credit: Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology

Another Weapon Again Resistance

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of finding ways to fight antibiotic resistance, the ability of bacteria to evolve to combat treatment. The United Nations has declared it a crisis on par with HIV or Ebola, and the number of resistant strains of bacteria continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Thankfully, researchers are exploring a plethora of ways to battle the problem. Some are developing new types of antibiotics, while others are making use of gene-editing breakthrough CRISPR. Some are even looking at bacteria on the backs of ants for a potential solution. As long as we continue to look high and (very) low, we’re sure to find a way to combat the deadly problem of antibiotic resistance. Let’s just hope it happens soon.

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