Despite new protocols and practices, sepsis continues to take lives across the US. A new device from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) could prove a potent new measure against an often disabling or fatal condition.
Some Background on Sepsis
We have discussed sepsis before, and as we have said it is not one disease. In its fatal form, septic shock, the body itself is staggered by an overwhelming immune response launched against an infectious invader—be it a fungal, viral, or bacterial.
Sepsis can attack anyone who is suffering from an infection, but there are some diseases which appear more likely to trigger a sepsis reaction, including:
- Urinary tract infections, like a bladder or kidney infection
- Digestive tract infections
- Infections of the bloodstream
As the immune system gears up to fight an invader, heart rate increases. Difficulty breathing, pain, malaise, high fever, and nausea are followed by falling blood pressure, and damage to internal organs, including the heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.7 million adults suffer sepsis. Of those, sepsis is fatal for about 270,000 of those patients.
Particularly vulnerable are infants and children who may be suffering a severe or sudden infection and the chronically ill or elderly, who may have compromised immune function.
Sensing a Biomarker of Sepsis
Research has identified biomarkers of sepsis—signals that sepsis may be developing in a patient. One of these signals, a protein biomarker called interleukin-6 (IL-6) increases when inflammation is increasing—a potential sign of sepsis. Scientists have determined even when the protein is rising, it is still too faint to detect in a standard blood test.
At MIT, researchers are working on a sensor that can detect a meaningful rise in IL-6 in about 25 minutes. The amount of blood needed for the test is less than that taken in a finger prick. The device uses antibody-coated microbeads and a multiple channel testing device to assess the electrical signal produced when the blood sample is processed. Notes researcher and MIT PhD candidate Dan Wu, “For an acute disease, such as sepsis, which progresses very rapidly and can be life-threatening, it’s helpful to have a system that rapidly measures these nonabundant biomarkers. You can also frequently monitor the disease as it progresses.”
A real breakthrough on sensing development of sepsis in an already ill patient will save lives. More studies of the device are needed, and the device may be able to be adapted to detect biomarker levels associated with other illnesses. Time will tell.
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