Science News

Remedying overdoses

Thu, 16th Oct 2014

Amelia Perry

A new dialysis treatment for drug overdoses and the build-upNeedle of bodily waste is set to speed up the process of more rapidly ridding the body of toxins.

Dialysis is a technique commonly used to filter the blood of individuals that are suffering from kidney failure. The kidneys are responsible for regulating the composition of our blood - removing waste substances from the body and maintaining the levels of important molecules such as sugars and salts.

When the kidneys fail, toxic substances begin to build-up which can lead to seizures, coma and even death. For example, ammonia produced from normal bodily processes is converted to urea by the kidneys and can then be removed in our urine. However, when the kidneys fail, hyperammonaemia - or very high levels of urea - occurs, which can cause brain damage. It is therefore essential for the blood to be cleaned using dialysis.

Dialysis treatment mimics the kidneys, replicating their function by passing the patient’s blood through a machine, filtering it and returning it to the body, free from any dangerous molecules. This technique is also sometimes used when an individual overdoses on a toxic substance.

However, dialysis is costly, time-consuming, highly invasive and impractical for young infants. But now, writing in Science Translational Medicine, Professor Jean-Christophe Leroux from ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) in Zurich, Switzerland, has announced a new technique that simply uses an injection to remove toxic chemicals in a much more efficient way.

A liquid containing liposomes – tiny artificially-prepared fatty bubbles – is injected into the peritoneal cavity in the abdomen. Toxic substances are then drawn into and sequested within the liposomes, rendering them harmless to the body. After a few hours, the liquid is tapped off taking the toxins with it.

“What is nice about this technique is that the same fluid is efficient at removing different types of drugs,” says Professor Leroux.

Whilst their technique will not be suitable as a replacement for conventional dialysis for patients suffering from kidney failure, it will be extremely beneficial to individuals suffering from acute intoxication. Patients who either accidentally or purposefully consume too much medication, for example anti-depressant pills, can be saved in an emergency by this life-saving technology.

According to Leroux, the next step is to start clinical trials on humans, “we are planning to test it in the next couple of years, we still need to optimise the process to make it a pharmaceutical product.”

Listen to the interview here: 

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