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Antibiotics really aren’t magic bullets.

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Antibiotics really aren’t magic bullets. Consider the rising threat of sepsis, a furious immune system reaction to bloodstream infections. Severe sepsis strikes more than 1 million Americans each year, and hospitalization rates have more than doubled in recent years. Despite use of the most powerful antibiotics, roughly half of affected patients in the U.S. still die. Engineers at Oregon State University think they can improve survival with an entirely different approach: physically removing bacteria and their toxins from the body by passing blood through a filter with thousands of intricately arranged channels, each no thicker than a human hair. They’ve coated the insides of these microchannels with molecules that actively bind to bacterial bits in the passing blood. Several other groups are developing competing blood-cleansing systems to treat sepsis, but the Oregon researchers say their edge is using precise geometry to speed blood flow through their system. “You can improve efficiency quite a bit,” says Adam Higgins, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. His team’s device will process a person’s entire blood volume in about an hour. He says the technology platform can be tweaked to target and remove other harmful things from blood, such as the antibodies responsible for autoimmune diseases. The researchers have a patent in the works and are raising money for testing in lab animals, a necessary step before clinical trials.