The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard has been awarded a $12.3 million, four-year grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a treatment for sepsis, a commonly fatal bloodstream infection. Sepsis is a major cause of injury and death among combat-injured soldiers in the field, as well as patients in hospital intensive care units.The proposed treatment would involve a miniaturized, dialysislike device that could rapidly clear the blood of a wide range of pathogens, much as a living human spleen does, without removing normal blood cells, proteins, fluids, or electrolytes. This novel “Spleen-on-a-Chip” would be portable, self-contained, and easily inserted into the peripheral blood vessels of a septic patient or soldier.The award, which was announced Sept. 28, is part of DARPA’s Dialysis Like Therapeutics (DLT) program, which seeks to develop ways to dramatically decrease the morbidity and mortality of sepsis. Worldwide, more than 18 million cases of sepsis are reported every year, with more than 6 million resulting in death.“We are very proud to partner with DARPA to pursue a research effort that could potentially transform how we treat patients with sepsis and save lives by quickly cleansing blood free of pathogens while simultaneously treating with antibiotics,” says Donald Ingber, Wyss Institute founding director and principal investigator on the grant. “This is a tremendous example of how the Wyss Institute works to bring together outstanding faculty members, expert technical staff, interdisciplinary resources, novel technologies, and clinical partner institutions, such as Children’s Hospital Boston, to bear on critical medical problems.”The project also includes George Church, a Wyss core faculty member and professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School; Joanna Aizenberg, a Wyss core faculty member and Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute; and Michael Super, a member of the Wyss Advanced Technology Team, as key co-investigators.Researchers plan to incorporate several of the Wyss Institute’s novel technologies in the proposed sepsis dialysis device. The sepsis therapeutic device will leverage recent Wyss Institute advances in organ-on-chip technologies in which key microstructural features of complex organs, such as the spleen, are replicated in microfluidic circuits using microfabrication techniques.Also key to the technology is the use of magnetic nano- and micro-particles coated with a human opsonin — a key component of the body’s innate immune response — that will remove pathogens from flowing human blood using magnetic forces. The opsonin is being genetically engineered to improve its already broad pathogen-binding capacity using directed evolution strategies developed at the institute.In addition, the sepsis therapeutic device will incorporate a “super” slippery surface that was developed by institute researchers as a novel material to prevent the adhesion of ice, crude oil, or even dirt. This technology, which is modeled after the slippery surfaces of carnivorous plants that trap insects sliding into the digestive juices of the plant, will be modified to prevent blood clot formation so that patients will not need to be treated with anticoagulants, such as heparin, when attached to the sepsis therapeutic device.The Wyss Institute is a division of Harvard University. Operating in collaboration with Harvard Schools, Harvard-affiliated hospitals, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the Wyss Institute conducts broad interdisciplinary research into the principles that living systems use to build, control, and manufacture, and applies these insights to develop novel materials and devices in areas as diverse as architecture, medicine, robotics, manufacturing, and the environment.
Despite the slowdown — which came at a weekend when the toll has often been lower — Environment Secretary George Eustice said now was not the time to relax strict social distancing rules.”There are encouraging signs of progress,” he said at the daily Downing Street press briefing. “But before we consider it safe to adjust any of the current system distancing measures, we must be satisfied that we have met the five tests set last week.”These included making sure the British health service NHS was able to cope, and a “sustained and consistent” fall in the daily death rate. Britain on Sunday reported its lowest daily rise in coronavirus deaths in nearly four weeks as the government resisted calls for an early easing of countrywide lockdown rules.The number of people who have died from the virus has risen by 413 to 20,732, officials said Sunday, the lowest reported daily increase in fatalities in all of April.The last time the health department recorded a smaller increase was on March 31, at 381 deaths. Influence row Meanwhile a row continues over the role played by Johnson’s chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, after it emerged he attended meetings of the main scientific group-advising ministers on the coronavirus pandemic. Downing Street denied that Cummings and another advisor, Ben Warner, were members of what is supposed to be the politically independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) but said they attended so as to “understand better” the scientific debates concerning this emergency”.A former Conservative frontbencher, David Davis, tweeted: “We should publish the membership of SAGE: remove any non-scientist members”. Johnson returning Raab told Sky News that Johnson would be back in his Downing Street office on Monday after recovering and was in “good spirits” and “raring to go”.He has been recuperating at the British prime ministerial retreat, Chequers, outside London since his release from hospital on April 12.Despite Sunday’s lower death toll Britain remains one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the virus.The government has been under scrutiny, especially over shortages in personal protective equipment and a lack of widespread testing, particularly of frontline health and social care workers. Topics : The UK was initially placed into lockdown on March 23. This was extended on April 16 and a review is due on May 7.Eustice echoed statements made by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab — who has been deputizing for Boris Johnson as the prime minister recovers from contracting the virus — earlier on Sunday that the lockdown rules would “be with us for some time” and were the “new normal”.Raab told the BBC: “We do want to look at when it’s safe, when it’s responsible, at ways to allow more outside activities to take place but, again, we have got to have the evidence that it’s a surefooted step and doesn’t allow the coronavirus to get a grip back on the country.”There have been calls for the rules to be relaxed from within the ruling Conservative Party.The new opposition Labor party leader Keir Starmer meanwhile wrote to Johnson on Sunday asking for details on a potential lifting of restrictions.He accused the government of “mistakes” at the beginning of the crisis and added: “The government cannot fall short in its preparations for what happens when the time is right for lockdown measures to be lifted.”Sunday’s figures also showed another 4,463 people had tested positive for the virus, bringing the total to almost 153,000.