Rapid blood test to detect sepsis could save thousands of lives

Thursday 17 October 2013

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition

Researchers from our National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre have identified a biomarker (a ‘biological fingerprint’) for sepsis in the blood, and shown it could be used to diagnose the condition within two hours.

Sepsis, also called ‘blood poisoning’, is a life-threatening condition caused when the body’s inflammatory response to a bacterial infection injures its own tissues and organs.

Lead researcher Professor Graham Lord said: “Sepsis is a hidden killer, causing nearly a third of all hospital deaths. Rapid antibiotic treatment for the condition is vital – every minute counts. Yet current diagnostic methods can take up to two days, so an accurate diagnostic test that can be carried out at the patient’s bedside is urgently needed.”

“This is an extremely exciting development that has the potential to completely transform the management of this severe disease and save thousands of lives worldwide every year. These are promising early findings, and now we need to test this approach in a large clinical trial.”

Sepsis causes approximately 37,000 deaths a year in the UK (more than breast and bowel cancer combined) and costs the NHS more than £2 billion a year.

Sepsis symptoms are similar to other types of Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (SIRS), but only sepsis responds to antibiotics.

Professor Lord continued: “Not only would an accurate diagnostic test improve outcomes for patients, but it would help tackle the ongoing problem of antibiotic resistance by allowing clinicians to distinguish between SIRS and sepsis and diagnose these severe conditions more accurately.”

The next step is to carry out a randomised clinical trial, which is being planned by the Trust and King’s College London, as part of King’s Health Partners.

To read more visit our NIHR Biomedical Research Centre website.

Last updated: October 2013

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