New Research May Improve the Treatment of Sepsis

Grant-funded research may help create improved treatments for this condition.

Septicemia occurs when your body has a severe immune response to an infection. When the body goes into septic shock, inflammation from the condition can lead to organ failure and potentially be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three patient who pass away in a hospital setting have sepsis. An average of 270,000 Americans die from sepsis each year.

Some symptoms of sepsis can include:

  • fever or low body temperature
  • racing heartbeat
  • dizziness or mental disorientation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • inability to breathe

A $1.9 million grant was awarded to Xiangan Li, a University of Kentucky College of Medicine professor. This grant will fund research into how hormones (glucocorticoids), commonly supplemented to ailing patients, may actually be harmful rather than helpful.

Glucocorticoids play a role in the body’s immune system. Usually they’re released from the adrenal glands in order to reduce inflammation. When suffering from sepsis, healthcare professionals may use these hormones to treat the body’s overactive immune response. However, according to Li’s research, septic mice who were treated with glucocorticoids that had normal adrenal stress responses had an increased mortality rate. The mice who had impaired adrenal stress responses who were given the therapy had better outcomes.

These results may indicate that this type of therapy should not be given to patients when the status of their adrenal sufficiency is unknown.

Li’s research will be used to further our understanding of the role these hormones play in how the immune system functions, which could help improve which treatments for sepsis should be administered. Li hopes his research will improve patient outcomes and save the lives of many people.

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