How a mix of vitamins and steroids could cure sepsis: 6 things to know

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Researchers at Atlanta-based Emory University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston are launching two studies to test a treatment that could potentially cure the No. 1 cause of death in American hospitals — sepsis, NPR reports.

Here are six things to know.

1. In early 2017, Paul Marik, MD, a critical care physician with Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, said he began using a treatment he claims was saving most of his sepsis patients. "There obviously was enormous resistance at the beginning," he told NPR, "but it seems that with time, people started thinking about it and saying, 'maybe this isn't as outrageous as we first thought.'"

2. Dr. Marik's treatment, a mixture of intravenous vitamin C, vitamin B1 and corticosteroids, was first developed by Alpha Fowler, MD, at Richmond-based Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Marik started using the combination treatment in 2016 and said it does not have consequential side effects. "At last count, over 700 patients have received the cocktail and, you know, the response is reproducible," Dr. Marik said.

3. Dr. Marik said the protocol could work because the sepsis reaction produces large amounts of a damaging molecule called reactive oxygen, which vitamin C neutralizes. Although some U.S. physicians have tried the treatment on their patients, most are waiting for scientific evidence proving the mixture's success.

4. Now two studies are underway to test the treatment, which researchers say could significantly change sepsis in U.S. hospitals. "This is something which, if proved to be true, would be a game-changer, almost a miracle cure, honestly," said Craig Coopersmith, MD, a critical care surgeon at Emory University and team member in the first sepsis study, called the VICTAS Study. The study soon will enroll hundreds of patients in Atlanta, Baltimore, Virginia and up to three dozen other hospitals, NPR reported.

5. Simultaneously, physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are beginning the second sepsis study, which involves 13 hospitals. "Our goal is to complete this trial within a year from now," said Michael Donnino, MD, who is leading this study. Dr. Donnino had enrolled 11 patients at his hospital by the end of April. Hospitals in New York state and Michigan launched the study the week of May 13.

6. The approach to sepsis to be explored in the studies offers a more affordable, lifesaving treatment, the study authors said. "It's not going to be the equivalent of a new drug in cancer or hepatitis, which costs $50,000 to $100,000, and you have to make the decision if insurance doesn't cover it, whether or not to mortgage the house and give away your inheritance," Dr. Coopersmith told NPR. "This is something that's going to be very, very cheap and accessible throughout the world."

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