Today, when we think of the dangers of the battlefield, we think of wounds caused by bullets, bombs, and other weapons. But as late as the Spanish American war of 1898, the number of soldiers who died from infectious diseases as opposed to directly from combat injuries was seven to one. Thanks to the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics, that ratio has swung dramatically the other way, but it’s still a major problem, not only for military personnel, but civilians too. DARPA is developing an artificial spleen, or „biospleen,“ as a way to help fight deadly infections without antibiotics. […]
An alternative way of handling infection is through dialysis. Similar toartificial kidney machines that clean the blood of waste products when the patient’s kidneys have failed, such a dialysis machine can also be configured to act like an artificial spleen.
For most people, what the spleen does is as mysterious as that switch they found under the sink when they moved in, but the liver-like organ plays a vital role in fighting infection by removing microbes and toxins from the bloodstream. Using a machine that can do the same thing could be a great help in dealing with combat-related sepsis, but such devices are large, expensive, and the exact opposite of portable.
DARPA’s Dialysis-Like Therapeutics (DLT) program aims at removing that bottleneck by coming up with a range of devices that can identify infections, move blood and other fluids about without the need for anticoagulants to keep the workings from gumming up, remove pathogens, and generally provide a sort of „closed loop“ therapy for dealing with infections. […]