New Sepsis Test Developed at Strathclyde Could Save Thousands of Lives

An innovative test for diagnosing sepsis has been developed by researchers here at the University of Strathclyde, which could save tens of thousands of lives every year.

The new, low cost system will allow incredible improvements to be made when it comes to the life-threatening condition. With existing hospital tests taking up to 72 hours to process, this test can produce results in as few as two and a half minutes.

Sepsis, which kills an estimated 52,000 people every year in the UK, arises as a serious complication of an infection and is a notoriously difficult condition to detect. Without quick treatment and an early diagnosis, sepsis can often lead to multiple organ failure and death. A delay of just one hour can dramatically increase the likelihood of death with sepsis, showing just how vital this new device could be.

If detected early enough, sepsis can be relatively simple to treat with antibiotics with people often making a full recovery. It is entirely treatable if caught early enough, often with no lasting problems.

Whilst this research at Strathclyde is still in the early stages, it is hoped that it will be available to use in three to five years if they are able to attract further funding to assist with tests and clinical trials.

The small device takes a pin prick of blood and uses a microelectrode to detect if any of the protein biomarkers of sepsis are present in the sample. Levels of Interleukin-6, one of the best protein biomarkers of the conditions, increase in many people with sepsis and can be detected using this biosensor device.

Dr Chris Russell and Dr Paul Steenson, researchers from the University of Leeds, made the sensing element of the device, and the team at Strathclyde did the measurements and developed the test using the sensor.

Dr Damion Corrigan, from the department of Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde said in an article for the Strathclyde website: “At the moment the 72 hour blood test is a very labour intensive process because the doctor orders the test on a computer with samples going to a central laboratory for processing and return of the result.

“The type of test we envisage could for example be at the bedside and involve doctors or nurses being able to monitor levels of sepsis biomarkers for themselves.

“With sepsis, the timing is key. For every hour that you delay the antibiotic treatment, the likelihood of death increases.

“The test could stop a lot of suffering.”

Gaynor Goldie, a 21 year old Law student at University of West of Scotland, developed sepsis after a colostomy operation in January 2018. She was allowed home following her operation and, for five days after, felt totally fine. But, in the days that proceeded she continued to feel weaker and couldn’t walk any distance further than the bathroom and back to her bed. She was readmitted to hospital when this too became impossible and she was being carried and dressed by her mum.

She said: “When I was admitted again, I was given morphine and the second they gave it to me I lost consciousness and that’s when they knew something wasn’t right. They said to my mum and dad that they shouldn’t leave because they weren’t sure I was going to make it through the night.”

Goldie, who suffers from Crohn’s disease, was eventually diagnosed with neutropenic sepsis because of a chemotherapy based drug she had received before her surgery that shut down her immune system and meant that her body struggled to recover.

Neutropenic sepsis is sepsis developed as a result of neutropenia, an abnormally low level of white blood cells in the body.

“They also pulled out the stitches holding the stoma in place one by one and the only thing I remember is screaming the ward down as I had no pain relief. It had to be done so quickly as the infection was clinging to it.”

The doctors only knew that she had some sort of infection, but didn’t realise yet just how serious it was.

“They started the treatment the night I got admitted and if they hadn’t, they said I would have likely lost my life. It was lucky they started the treatment even without knowing how bad it actually was or I wouldn’t be here.

“If this test existed when I went in I would have felt so much more at ease knowing they could give me an answer at least. The NHS needs a test like that.”


By Holly McKie
Arts Editor