Examining genetic markers in sepsis

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Septic shock is a serious complication of sepsis, affecting 15 thousand Australians annually, with a global mortality rate of up to 50%. Occurring when blood pressure is dangerously low, septic shock starves organs and can rapidly lead to multiple organ failure or death. Adding to the severity of the condition is that some patients respond to treatment, and others do not.

Professor David Evans of the University of Queensland (UQ) is tackling this issue using genomics. Professor Evans and his team at the Diamantina Institute are developing a library of genetic markers to determine if our genetic make-up might influence the severity of infections  and our response to treatments. The team hopes to develop a model that will predict chances of survival for sepsis patients based on their genetic profile, and reduce multiple organ failure and death from septic shock.

Working alongside Professor Evans and his team is Professor Bala Venkatesh, critical care specialist and Australian Sepsis Network (ASN) collaborator. Professor Venkatesh leads the ADRENAL trial – the largest septic shock study to date – is comparing intravenous hydrocortisone with placebo for patients with septic shock. Previous studies on corticosteroids have provided conflicting results about the drug’s efficacy as a treatment for septic shock. Professor Venkatesh is examining whether hydrocortisone is beneficial only to some patients who are critically ill with septic shock, and Professor Evans’ work may identify those patients via their genetic markers.

With the average cost of treating septic shock being more than $40,000 per episode, trials like this have considerable outcomes for Australian health expenditure as well as potentially informing the future of treatment for septic shock.