Right now there’s no rapid way to diagnose sepsis, a fast-moving blood infection that is a leading cause of death in hospital intensive care units. The illness unleashes a powerful inflammatory response that can quickly overwhelm the body, causing organ failure and death, often within days.
New research now suggests that doctors one day could quickly distinguish sepsis from widespread non-infectious inflammation based on genetic profiles of patients’ blood. Testing this method in mice, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found the profiles could accurately discriminate between the two conditions 94 percent of the time. The molecular profiles measure differences in patterns of gene expression that are unique to sepsis vs. non-infectious inflammation.
The researchers used microarrays, also called gene chips, to analyze patterns of gene expression in the mice. The same technology is already used by doctors to diagnose breast cancer and predict a patient’s response to various chemotherapy drugs, but this is the first time researchers have attempted to use gene chips to distinguish sepsis from non-infectious inflammation.