Genetic biomarker may predict death in sepsis patients, study finds

Researchers found a molecule that may forecast death in sepsis patients. The identification of this biomarker may aid clinicians in deciding whether to treat patients with therapies that either bolster or inhibit the immune system, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Sepsis is a potentially lethal health complication triggered by the body's immune response to life-threatening infections. The condition can result in tissue damage and organ failure and kills nearly 250,000 Americans every year.

Researchers identified the biomarker — methylthioadenosine — after examining genetic pathways in mice infected with Salmonella bacteria, which is known to incite sepsis. Researchers then detected the biomarker in sepsis patients. The team used the biomarker and other variables to create a machine learning model. The model predicted patient death at an accuracy rate of 80 percent.

Developing new therapies for sepsis treatment has proved challenging over the years, according to Dennis Ko, MD, PhD, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.

"This area has been a graveyard for the pharmaceutical industry, with more than 100 failed clinical trials of therapies that target the body's abnormal response to infection," said Dr. Ko. "It may be that these failed clinical trials are not actually failures of treatment, but rather failures of diagnosis. With better biomarkers, we may be able to group sepsis patients into more refined categories to more effectively test and possibly even resurrect old drugs."

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