Biomarker test could speed sepsis diagnosis

Author: Mark Gould

A new rapid test for earlier diagnosis of sepsis, which can be used in any setting from general practice to A&E, could save thousands of lives, according to its designers.

A team from Strathclyde University have developed a microelectrode device which analyses the patient's blood, with results coming through in two-and-a-half minutes.
Current diagnosis tests for sepsis can take up to 72 hours.

The researchers have applied for grant funding to develop a prototype device and hope to get commercial interest in taking it forward. They estimate it could be in use within three to five years.

It is estimated that 52,000 people in the UK die every year from sepsis, which is a serious complication of an infection and can be hard to diagnose. Diagnosis of sepsis is usually based on body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and often a blood test, which can take up to 72 hours.

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 small size of the devices - microelectrodes on needle shaped substrates - make them ideal for initial testing and also continuous monitoring for sepsis.

Dr Damion Corrigan, from the department of Biomedical Engineering at Strathclyde, said: “The research shows that the tools we’ve developed could underpin a rapid test for sepsis. We’ve developed a needle shaped sensor with different electrodes and have shown we can detect one sepsis biomarker in almost real time, at the clinically relevant levels.

“When levels go up, as they do in sepsis, we can detect that too. Sepsis is quite complex and difficult to diagnose but IL-6 is one of the best markers.

“Our research so far shows you can measure a single sepsis marker, but there are actually eight sensors on the needle, each about the same diameter as a human hair and the idea is that in the future we can get multiple markers on the one microchip for a more comprehensive test.”

He said the test would work well in GP surgeries and in A&E to quickly rule sepsis in or out.

"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."

The small device can be even implanted and used on patients in intensive care and can detect when sepsis levels go up.

The project's clinical adviser and co-author, Dr David Alcorn, from Paisley's Royal Alexandra Hospital, said the tiny electrode could detect sepsis and at the same time diagnose the type of infection and the recommended antibiotic.

"The implications for this are massive, and the ability to give the right antibiotic at the right time to the right patient is extraordinary.

"I can definitely see this having a clear use in hospitals, not only in this country, but all round the world."

Image courtesy of University of Strathclyde