How sepsis need not be fatal

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Sepsis, the body's life-threatening response to infection affecting about 1.7 million adults in the United States each year, can lead to multisystem
organ failure with a high mortality rate.

No targeted therapeutics against this condition have been developed in the last decades. Now, however, a team led by biomedical scientists at the University of California, Riverside, offers some hope for future treatment during sepsis awareness month.

The researchers, led by Meera Nair and Adam Godzik in the School of Medicine, identified molecular biomarkers, pathways and immune cell dynamics associated with sepsis that could be therapeutically targeted to prevent the condition from leading to death. These blood cell biomarkers — the protein CD52 in lymphocytes; and the protein S100A9 involved in inflammatory processes — are present in all blood cells but highly expressed in people with sepsis. How these biomarkers change early in sepsis — specifically, within the first six hours — could determine whether the patient survives or dies.

"These biomarkers were found to uniquely change within six hours in the blood of patients with sepsis and affected specific cellular pathways in specific immune cells," said Nair, an associate professor of biomedical sciences, who co-led the study published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology. "Changes in CD52 expression were associated with good outcomes, which means promoting the activation of protective immune cells. S100A9, on the other hand, acted as a molecular driver of fatal sepsis. We appear to have found a molecular driver and a molecular protector of sepsis."

According to Nair, the team also found the molecular pathways for fatal sepsis and COVID-19 converge.

"Severe COVID appears to trigger molecular pathways identical to sepsis," she said. "Further analysis of these pathways can help us diagnose and treat both diseases."

In particular, the research team also found that in people with sepsis, blood platelets — cell types involved in normal blood flow and coagulation — lost their function, as they do in COVID patients. The researchers argue that if the platelets' function…
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