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South Coast researchers develop early detection test for problem which kills 250,000 people annually

Researchers have developed a new test which predicts sepsis soon after infection, increasing the chances for the patient's survival.
Ryan Allen, Peter Allen
Second Bay Studios
Researchers have developed a new test which diagnoses sepsis soon after infection, increasing the chances for the patient's survival.

Scientists zero in on way of diagnosing sepsis, which affects an estimated 1.7 million people annually, with sometimes devestating or fatal consequences.

It’s a medical condition most people don’t know about until they face it. Yet, the federal Centers for Disease Control reports that one in three people who die in hospitals have it. Sepsis occurs when your body has an extreme reaction to an infection.

"Sepsis is the body's response to infection," said Dr. Victor Candioty, an emergency room doctor from Ventura County. "It's the body's in a sense counterattack. But, in doing so, some of these elements can cause an inflammatory response in your body."

It can cause serious damage to body organs, and even death. More than 250,000 people a year die as a result of sepsis in America.

The CDC reports that for those with sepsis, 87% of the time it started before the person was in the hospital. Early diagnosis can make a huge difference. A team led by a UC Santa Barbara researcher may have found the key to doing it.

"The holy grail of biotech is to solve sepsis," said Dr. Michael Mahan.

His team at UCSB has been working with researchers at UC San Diego, and Sandford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute on the early sepsis diagnosis issue.

"Few diagnostics exist for this condition," said Mahan.

He says it's often found when things like kidney or liver failure occur, and by then there is permanent organ damage

The researchers are announcing a breakthrough which sets the stage for the use of a quick, easy to use blood test to diagnosis sepsis.

"A small amount of blood is collected and analyzed for an increase blood clotting proteins," said Mahan. "Such detection enabled early antibiotic treatment."

Mahan has been working on the issue for a decade. The research team has received $27 million in federal funding to support the efforts.

The testing has involved mice. He says human studies still need to be done, and that we are about five years away from tests being readily available.

The researcher says they decided to make their findings available on an open source basis. That means instead of obtaining a patent, and licensing it to companies, any company which wants to pursue the technology can do it for free. Mahan says it’s about saving lives.

With an estimated 1.7 million American a year developing sepsis, the findings could open the door to saving tens of thousands more lives annually.

The findings of the study were published in the medical journal Lancet eBioMedicine.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.