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Rapid Test to Diagnose Severe Sepsis

Treating inflammation may be bad idea, authors say

A new test developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia could help physicians predict within an hour whether a patient will develop severe sepsis so that they can begin treatment immediately.

Sepsis, a syndrome caused by infection, leads to organ failure and is responsible for up to five million deaths annually. Eighteen million cases of sepsis occur worldwide each year.

The discovery could reduce the lengthy diagnostic time usually required to confirm whether a patient has sepsis and increases the odds that the patient will respond to treatment.

“We identified a gene signature that is associated with the eventual diagnosis of sepsis and subsequent organ failure,” said co-author Dr. Bob Hancock. “We can test for this genetic signature as soon as the patient arrives in the emergency ward.”

A typical diagnosis can take 24 to 48 hours, but with the new test, physicians could start treating patients almost immediately, the authors say.

The test, described in the journal EBioMedicine, takes as little as 1 hour to complete and was able to identify 96% of patients who were at the early stages of sepsis.

“With sepsis, every hour counts,” Hancock said. “The treatment involves aggressive antibiotics, but the most potent drugs can’t be administered until a diagnosis is confirmed because of the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

The new research also revealed a potential misunderstanding about sepsis. Until now, sepsis has been treated as an inflammatory disorder, but more than 30 clinical trials of anti-inflammatory drugs for sepsis have failed. The gene signature identified by Hancock and his colleagues relates to a special type of immune suppression called cellular reprogramming and suggests that treating inflammation in sepsis may be a bad idea.

Sources: University of British Columbia; October 23, 2014; and EBioMedicine; October 7, 2014.

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