About 220 million people suffered from malaria in 2017, according to the World Health Organization. Of those, 435,000 died. Although more than 90 percent of cases and deaths were concentrated in Africa, the agency warns that "almost half of the world's population" is at risk.
This disease, as well as septicaemia and leukaemia, could benefit from the work of George Frodsham. This British Doctor in Biochemical Engineering jumped from physics to engineering and from there to entrepreneurship. He has created a system called magnetic blood filtration. The technique extracts blood from the body to cleanse it of pathogens and toxins, a breakthrough that has made him one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Europe from MIT Technology Review.
The system, called MediSieve (the name he also gave to his company), is installed in the hemofiltration machines available in hospitals. All that is needed is to prick two needles in the arm, one for the exit of the blood and another one for its entrance once it is clean. The system consists of a disposable filter and magnetic nanoparticles (even in the early stages of development, Frodsham warns that the filter is more developed). These particles attach themselves to the harmful elements in order to attract them to a magnet as the blood circulates, without the need to penetrate the patient's body. The young man assures that the system does not attract other beneficial elements with the same magnetic properties, only pathogens.
The team is already working on filtering to reduce the number of abnormal white blood cells and improve chemotherapy in leukemia patients as well as to extract infected red blood cells in malaria patients. In the latter case, because its pathogens naturally incorporate magnetic properties, nanoparticles are not necessary. For the rest, different types of particles can even be combined to eliminate several pathogens at the same time.
Ninety percent of a patient's malaria-infected blood could be filtered in three and a half hours, depending on the equipment. For other diseases and depending on the patient, the time would be between two and three hours. "It sounds like science fiction, but it's not. It's real and it's possible", says the Brit.
In 2018, MediSieve demonstrated the safety of the system in animals. The first human clinical trials will take place in the second half of 2020. The aim is for the malaria product to be marketed by 2021 and the septicaemia product by 2022 or 2023. In addition, the team hopes that magnetic filtration will also be used to treat viruses or overdoses, which would reduce mortality and hospital stays. The young man explains, "I think what we are doing is difficult, particularly the development and engineering of a filter that works and also the development and validation of particles." He also regrets how "complex" it has been to obtain funds, as malaria is a "poor people's disease" and there is no economic benefit to be gained from it.
The Co-founder and CTO of Anatomiz3D and member of the Innovators Under 35 jury, Firoza Kothari, points out that Frodsham "has an evident innovation without comparison and could really help to make the treatment of these diseases much easier and more bearable."
By José Manuel Blanco
Translation: Brian Bostwick