Blood analysis predicts sepsis and organ failure in children

University of Queensland

University of Queensland researchers have developed a method to predict if a child is likely to develop sepsis and go into organ failure.

Associate Professor Lachlan Coin from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience said sepsis was a life-threatening condition where a severe immune response to infection causes organ damage.

“Our research involved more than 900 critically ill children in the emergency departments and intensive care units of four Queensland hospitals,” Dr Coin said.

“Blood samples were taken from these patients at the acute stage of their infection, and we analysed which genes were activated or deactivated.

“We were able to identify patterns of gene expression which could predict whether the child would develop organ failure within the next 24 hours, as well as whether the child had a bacterial or viral infection or a non-infectious inflammatory syndrome.”

Professor Luregn Schlapbach from UQ’s Child Health Research Centre said sepsis is best treated when recognised early, so the finding could help clinicians in the future.

“Diagnosing sepsis is often challenging because many paediatric illnesses can present the same,” Professor Schlapbach said.

“Having precision markers that tell you whether a child is going to develop the condition is urgently needed.

“Currently doctors give antibiotics, fluids and increase observation of any child if sepsis is suspected, but unfortunately that means there are children who receive unnecessary treatment.”

Professor Schlapbach said more research was needed before the findings could help clinicians to act pre-emptively.

“Our next step will be to transfer what we have discovered to a point-of-care platform, which means we can potentially generate the results from a blood test within an hour,” he said.

The research was funded by the Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund Genomic Health Futures Mission, Children’s Hospital Foundation Queensland, Brisbane Diamantina Health Partners, Emergency Medicine Foundation, Gold Coast Hospital Foundation, Far North Queensland Foundation, Townsville Hospital and Health Services SERTA Grant and Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.

Dr Coin is also a Professor at the Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne.

The research paper was published in Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

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