Advances Made in Sepsis Research at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield

Advances Made in Sepsis Research at the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield

In the past few months, researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield studying sepsis – the ‘hidden killer’ – have made important advances in the field. Sepsis is the complication of an infection which causes the body to attack its own organs and tissue. Without rapid treatment, this condition causes breathlessness, fatigue, and premature death. It is known as the ‘hidden killer’ because its symptoms can be easily mistaken for those of flu, gastroenteritis or chest infection. Partly due to this, sepsis is responsible for more deaths in the UK than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.

Nearly one in four deaths in people suffering from heart failure are caused by sepsis, according to new research from the University of Leeds funded by the British Heart Foundation. Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “To most people, a person with heart failure dying from sepsis would seem like a tragic and unpredictable accident – but the shocking reality is that sepsis is the cause of death in a quarter of these people.”

As one way to tackle the difficulties of diagnosing sepsis, scientists from the University of Leeds have developed a ‘risk profile’ to identify patients who are particularly susceptible to the condition, often years before they become ill. This research allows for the closer monitoring of high-risk patients, in the hope that they can receive the necessary quick treatment if they do contract the condition. Professor Richard Cubbon, senior author of the study, said: “We have created a simple way to identify people with heart failure who are at greatest risk of dying from sepsis. It could be part of a routine check which is already performed when they visit their doctors.”

This research, which was published this month in the Journal of the American Heart Association, follows a ground-breaking study conducted by an international team of scientists at the University of Sheffield and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that the immune systems of children, which are relatively resistant to mortality from sepsis, could hold the key to preventing such infections. Winston Hide, Professor of Computational Biology at the University of Sheffield’s Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN), said: “By using the lessons we have learnt from the immune systems of children, scientists can now unlock how to control the disease and prevent it from occurring as opposed to trying to fight the disease once it has manifested itself.”

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