Understanding how infection transitions to sepsis now seem as an option to help tackle this dreadful condition that so far kills close to a quarter million Americans each year.
Statistics say sepsis kills more than stroke and Alzheimer’s combined, among the older generation.
However, there is hope as researchers have found a clue that seems to map how an infection does spiral into sepsis, by interfering with the body’s immune response.
How Sepsis Occurs
In most cases, sepsis stems from a simple infected cut that may seem like not a cause for concern. On realizing the infection, the immune system tries to combat it, but fails — sepsis occurs and is seen in form of inflammation that spreads to all parts of the body.
This leaves the victim’s internal organs vulnerable to damage and secondary infections that quickly turn severe. At this point or stage, urgent treatment becomes an extreme necessity. Unfortunately, most often doctors lack fast efficient methods to diagnose the condition.
But according to a recent research, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel, as scientists from the University of Columbia Irving Medical Center have discovered how sepsis blunts the body’s immune.
“Our findings suggest that specific molecules by the name microRNAs might pose as highly significant biomarkers of poor prognosis, that point to the need for alternative or more aggressive treatment,” explained Sankar Ghosh, the senior study leader, and prof. Microbiology and Immunology the Silverstein and Hutt Family, and chair at Department of Microbiology University of Columbia.
Attack on Sepsis
The immune system is designed in a way that it launches a vigorous attack on sepsis soon it is detected, but then the innate immune responses back by shutting down. This mechanism is what remained a puzzle until the recent study.
Now, Ghosh and team have found two partially identical microRNAs christened miR-221 and miR-222 and have linked them to the mechanism.
It was observed that both of these were produced inside immune cells when there is prolonged inflammation. The theory is that these microRNAs end up silencing inflammatory gene expression.
Using mouse as a specimen, lab experiments show that sepsis suppressed the animal’s immune system at the time when it could have been of more help.
Spotting Patients in Danger of Sepsis
Tests show that patients suspected with sepsis generated those same symptoms seen with mice. In a group of 30 patients diagnosed with organ failure, results exhibited higher levels of the two microRNAs in blood samples.
There was also enough evidence pointing to a relationship between elevated miR-221 and miR-222 in septic patients and immunosuppression.
The point is doctors can monitor these two microRNAs to classify patients into categories of those who are at a high risk of sepsis and those with milder infections. “The best treatment for sepsis begins with fast detection,” states professor Ghosh.
As such, doctors can administer antibiotics and fluids to control the infection as immediate as possible, before the victim succumbs to organ failure which mostly accompanies severe secondary infections.
Usually, it is an unclear mystery when doctors face sepsis, but the bottom line is, they must act. They might decide to use the broadest spectrum of antibiotics as an aggressive option to cover all possible bacteria in the situation. “The problem is at times, this might in the long run result in antibiotic resistance, thereby adding to another problem,” says Daniel Freedberg co-author of the report.
This is ideally why clinical trials are necessary to establish the drugs to be administered when the symptoms strike. Having the levels of the microRNAs right as a quick guide to prognosis can help in choosing less consequential treatment options.
While this finding seems to come at the most opportune time and can help save many lives, more validations are being undertaken to measure the usefulness of the technique, as an option to handle sepsis cases.