Sepsis test offers hope for the future

21 Feb 2019

Sepsis test offers hope for the future

About 6 million people around the world die from sepsis every year, with 52,000 of those in the UK, according to the UK Sepsis Trust.

A new rapid test for earlier diagnosis of sepsis is being developed by University of Strathclyde researchers.

This is promising news, as sepsis is notoriously tricky to diagnose, while it’s crucial to catch it early as consequences can be fatal. Possible symptoms are; slurred speech, cognitive difficulties, extreme shivering, muscle pain, severe breathlessness and mottled or discoloured skin.

Doctors currently monitor heart rate, body temperature and breathing rate to diagnose sepsis, in addition to performing a blood test which takes between 12 and 72 hours to provide results.

The UK Sepsis Trust says it can be difficult to distinguish sepsis symptoms from flu and advises people "don't be afraid to say 'I think this might be sepsis'."

Getting antibiotics and fluid early can halt the progression of the infection.

Sespsis on Coronation Street
© ITV Coronation Street's Jack Webster develops sepsis 


The new test uses a device to detect if one of the protein biomarkers of sepsis, interleukin-6 (IL-6), is present in the blood.

The device, which has been tested in a laboratory, may be capable of producing results in two-and-a-half minutes, the Biosensors and Bioelectronics journal study suggests.

"At the moment, the 72-hour blood test is a very labour-intensive process but (this) type of test we envisage could be at the bedside and involve doctors or nurses being able to monitor levels of sepsis biomarkers for themselves," said study author Damion Corrigan, from the department of Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde.

"It's not just saving lives, a lot of people who survive sepsis suffer life changing effects, including limb loss, kidney failure and post-traumatic stress disorder," said Corrigan. "The test could stop a lot of suffering."

Saving lives

The researchers have applied for grant funding to carry out further research, and intend to carry out clinical trials.

"The implications for this are massive, and the ability to give the right antibiotic at the right time to the right patient is extraordinary," said study author Dr. David Alcorn of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland.

Dr. Ron Daniels, CEO of the UK Sepsis Trust, believes that testing methods that allow earlier diagnosis and treatment of sepsis, like the IL-6 device, would save at least 14,000 lives per year in the UK.

"More people die in the UK every year from sepsis than from breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined," said Daniels in a statement.

"A system which can place results to aid diagnosis of sepsis into the clinicians' hand at the bedside has the power to speed its treatment and save lives."