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Ministry of Defence scientists have cracked the blueprint for a “breakthrough” blood test that promises to save thousands of lives a year in the fight against hospital sepsis.
Researchers trying to combat infection in troops following battlefield injury say they have identified the molecular “signature” that predicts the life-threatening condition hours or days before symptoms appear.
One of the leading causes of avoidable death in the UK, sepsis kills more than 37,000 people a year and occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection, which can lead to multiple organ failure if not treated promptly with fluids and antibiotics. Despite scandals such as the death of three-year-old Sam Morrish in 2010, cases are missed if symptoms such as raised heartbeats and high or low temperatures are attributed to other causes, and tests take hours to come back.
But scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) have told The Sunday Telegraph their 10-year study should enable vulnerable patients to be screened for sepsis using a one-hour test. In the first such analysis of its kind, the team tracked 4,385 patients who were in hospital for elective surgery in the UK and Germany. Of these, 155 developed sepsis. The patients gave daily blood samples from the start of their hospital stay, enabling researchers to identify which blood biomarker pattern indicated sepsis was going to develop.
Dstl said the signature predicted sepsis at up to 97 per cent accuracy. Ploughshare Innovations, its intellectual property arm, was seeking to license the discovery to a commercial firm, which could turn it into a test.
Stuart Andrew, the minister for defence procurement, said:“ This crucial research in sepsis treatment is an outstanding example of the pioneering research carried out by Dstl scientists and highlights how lessons learned on the battlefield can have a huge impact on improving day-to-day lives.”
Dr Roman Lukaszewski, who led the research, said: “If you can give a clinician a heads-up that a patient is likely to develop sepsis in one, two, three days, it may enable that clinician to change the treatment and persuade them to monitor that patient more closely.”
This article first appeared in The Telegraph (12 August 2018)