Queensland researchers to investigate using genetic markers to diagnose sepsis in children sooner

Wednesday 13 September 2017

A landmark Queensland study will investigate whether genetics hold the key to faster diagnosis and treatment of sepsis which claims the lives of approximately one million children globally every year.

The Rapid Acute Paediatric Infection Diagnosis in Sepsis (RAPIDS) study, launched today to mark World Sepsis Day (13 September), aims to help clinicians better understand why and which children can suddenly become so unwell because of sepsis.

Sepsis (also known as ‘blood poisoning’) is among the leading causes of death in infants and children and was recently identified as a priority by the World Health Organisation.

Every year in Australia and New Zealand, about 500 children require life-support treatment because of sepsis leading to organ failure. Sadly, about one in 10 of these children do not survive – that represents an average of about one death per week.

The RAPIDS study by the Paediatric Critical Care Research Group at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital and The University of Queensland (UQ) will investigate whether a novel blood test for genetic markers of sepsis can accurately identify the severity of the infection and reduce the time it takes to make a diagnosis.

The two-year study will be run in the emergency department and paediatric intensive care unit at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Two other Queensland hospitals, a regional and a remote facility, will also take part.

Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital paediatric intensivist and Mater Research Institute-UQ (MRI-UQ) Associate Professor Luregn Schlapbach, who is leading the research, said it could prove to be a game-changer in the field.

“Infants and children are at greatest risk of developing sepsis because of the immaturity of their immune systems,” Associate Professor Schlapbach said.

“The challenge we currently have is that children who go on to develop sepsis may initially have symptoms commonly seen with most flu-like viral illnesses. Children in regional and remote settings may be at particular risk of late diagnosis resulting in worse outcomes, because the risk of death rises dramatically with every hour of delay in treatment.

“Current clinical and lab tests to diagnose sepsis are slow (taking up to 48 hours for blood cultures), sometimes inaccurate, and can lead to overuse of antibiotics.”

“With the RAPIDS study, we hope to be able to identify sepsis more accurately and within a few hours of taking a blood test.”

Associate Professor Schlapbach said while timely administration of antibiotics had been shown to improve sepsis outcomes, it remained poorly understood why some children developed sepsis, sometimes despite receiving optimal care, and others did not.”

“About two-thirds of Australian and New Zealand children who die of severe infections are suffering from other chronic diseases, but the other third have been healthy prior to infection.”

“If we can identify children with or developing sepsis more rapidly, we can potentially save more lives and deliver better long-term outcomes for survivors of sepsis.” Lady Cilento Children`s Hospital  emergency physician and co-investigator.

Associate Professor Schlapbach will work in collaboration with Lady Cilento Children's Hospital emergency physician  and co-investigator Dr Peter Snelling, Associate Professor Lachlan Coin, of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ, and Dr Seweryn Bialasiewicz, of the Queensland Paediatric Infectious Diseases laboratory, and other UQ researchers.

The study is supported by Mater Foundation, Mater Research, UQ and the Emergency Medicine Foundation.