It is a prospect that terrifies bioweapons experts: Terrorists release smallpox into an American city, spreading sickness and panic. Because the disease is untreatable and vaccines no longer exist, first responders and other emergency personnel would be particularly vulnerable.
A new invention, however, may help to avert the worst of this worst-case scenario. Aethlon Medical, a small San Diego biotech company, is developing a portable device that removes viruses from blood. Known as the Hemopurifier, it filters not only smallpox but numerous other viruses, including Marburg and Ebola.
The Hemopurifier resembles a shrunken dialysis cartridge, the rolling-pin-size device that purifies the blood of patients whose kidneys have failed. Both use a filter to remove toxins from blood. But unlike traditional dialysis, the Hemo-purifier also includes plant-derived antibodies, such as cyanovirin, that bind to a variety of viruses and eliminates them from the bloodstream. The plant solution can be modified to weed out even genetically engineered germs.
Aethlon has built two versions of its device. One, a foot long and an inch wide, is designed for use in hospitals; the other, the size of a large pen, is meant for use in the field. Both types attach to a pump. But the portable version could work without one, using the patient´s heart as the engine to force blood through the filter [see illustration above].
Aethlon recently shipped several Hemopurifiers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for cell culture tests on human blood infected with Ebola. Meanwhile the company has already completed its own tests in animals. Though promising, the Hemopurifier still has a few big hurdles to clear, the biggest of which is successful testing in humans. Aethlon is wrapping up safety trials in India and hopes to begin clinical tests in the U.S. by the end of this year.
How To Debug Blood
- Infected blood flows into the Hemopurifier through a tube extending from one artery.
- The toxin filters work like a colander, allowing small viruses through but not large red and white blood cells. The filter, which is made from a biocompatible plastic called polysulfone, is coated with special plant-derived antibodies that hold fast to the pathogens, ensuring that they don´t reenter the bloodstream.
- Purified blood travels back into the body through a second tube inserted into another artery. The human body typically contains about five liters of blood. The entire quantity can flow through the Hemopurifier in about 12 minutes. The process is repeated until all the toxins are removed-usually within a few hours.