DARPA’s next medical project could help save the lives of a quarter-million Americans each year.
The Defense Department’s research arm recently awarded a $22.8 million contract for a corporate team to build a device to treat sepsis, a severe blood infection that kills between one-third to one-half of people who develop it.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition usually caused by a body’s response to invasion by bacteria, parasite or other pathogen. It can develop quickly, often killing its victims in hours.
Combat-injured troops — especially those injured by roadside bombs, which drive dirt and microbes deep into wounds and establish conditions ripe for sepsis — are particularly susceptible; in 2009, 1,500 combat troops died or suffered severe complications from sepsis, according to DARPA.
The DARPA-backed team, which includes Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle, NxStage Medical and Aethlon Medical aim to build a machine that would work much like kidney dialysis, removing blood from the body, scrubbing out the dirty or infected parts and returning clean blood back to the patient.
The idea is for the device also to be portable so it can be used at military aid stations.
“This device could not only save many of our soldiers’ lives, it could be profoundly important in saving thousands of civilian lives each year in the United States alone,” said Battelle Energy, Health and Environment president Martin Toomajian.
Aethlon and university teams have been working to develop the machine’s components since 2011 under DARPA’s Dialysis-Like Therapeutics program. The new contract, which could last up to four years, calls for integrating them into a product that could be used for clinical trials and, if it works, FDA approval.
In addition to treating sepsis, the technology has the potential for treating chemical, biological or radiological contamination, cancer, diabetes and more, according to Dr. Timoth Broderick, DARPA Microsystems Technology Office program manager.