Health

Drug hope for sepsis uncovered

E. coli bacteria in the bloodstream
Image caption Septic shock is a serious inflammatory response to an infection

Scientists have uncovered a potential new treatment for blood poisoning.

Experiments by a team in Glasgow show that blocking a molecule, previously found to be activated during septic shock, cuts the risk of death in mice.

It is hoped the finding, published in Science, could lead to a wider range of drugs for the condition which affects 20 million people worldwide every year.

As many as 50% of people with septic shock die, figures show.

In England and Wales there are an estimated 31,000 cases a year of severe sepsis, which is a catastrophic immune system reaction to infection leading to organ failure.

Patients need to be admitted to intensive care so their organs can be supported while the infection is treated.

In the latest study researchers built on previous work showing that an enzyme called SphK1 is triggered during the inflammation that occurs in septic shock.

They showed that immune cells from patients with severe sepsis produced abnormally high levels of the enzyme and that blocking it from reduced the inflammatory signals sent out by the cells.

Protection

Using drugs which block the enzyme, they showed that treatment cut the risk of death in mice with the condition.

The treated mice were also protected from multi-organ failure, and were much better at clearing the bacterial infection than untreated mice.

Study leader Professor Alirio Melendez, from the University of Glasgow, said drugs which block the enzyme may become useful treatments.

"The incidence of sepsis is on the increase and clinical treatments are still inadequate so a medical breakthrough of this kind is timely and will hopefully lead to a way to treat this killer condition."

John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said the results were very interesting but one of the key factors in improving survival in people with sepsis was getting an early diagnosis.

He said people end up in hospital because they are very unwell but there may not be an obvious source of infection.

"It's important to identify sepsis early and treat it aggressively.

"There is a window when you can make a big difference - it is a time-critical condition."

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