Rare Breakthrough in the Study of Septic Shock


Septic shock is a silent killer around the world and treatments for it are few and far between; without an early diagnosis around 50% of patients will die as a result of it. What makes it so hard to treat is the fact that body is attacking itself but new research has finally pinpointed the chain of events that lead to septic shock, research that it is hoped will bring about new treatment options.

It was a round a decade ago that mouse studies led to the discovery that toll-like receptors were responsible for detecting extracellular bacteria. This latest research, performed by the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, built on that previous work and focused on finding the sensor pathway to the cell and inside the cell during an immune response.

Published in the latest edition of Science, the research showed that the intracellular and extracellular sensors work together, both detecting the same component of the bacterial cell membrane, known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS). In most cases the immune system is able to tell the difference between something suspicious and a full-blown threat but during a case of septic shock this differentiation does not happen and the body goes into overdrive to attack an infection that is either not there or very diminutive.

An immune response will cause the body to increase the permeability of its blood vessels leading to immune cells leaving the bloodstream and going on the attack to the infection site. In cases of septic shock, blood pressure will fall dramatically and the heart rate will rise. If recognized early enough the prognosis looks good but treatment options are sparse and primarily involve trying to wrestle the immune system back in line. Septic shock will often lead to organ failure and death; it kills 750’000 US citizens each year alone.

About half of the cases of septic shock are caused by bacteria that produce LPS so this research has the potential to help many thousands of people. Further research is needed but this is a positive step in the right direction for creating options for treatment, such as drugs that can break into the chain reaction before the onset of organ failure.

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Image of septic shock in action is provided courtesy of http://medicaltextbooks.blogspot.com



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