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Improved & Faster Sepsis Test Could Save Lives

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have developed a new test to provide an earlier diagnosis of sepsis. The researchers believe the test could potentially save the lives of thousands.

Currently, tests to diagnosis the condition can take up to 72 hours, whereas results from this new way of testing can deliver a diagnosis in just 2.5 minutes. The new test is carried out using a microelectrode device which analyses the patients’ blood, and the researchers are hoping that it could come to be used daily in three to five years.

Sepsis is a serious complication of infection and currently takes the lives of around 52,000 people within the UK each year. The condition is not easy to diagnose, and often masks itself as a flu, chest infection of gastroenteritis. Sepsis can be a quick killer, and so therefore the earlier it is diagnosed the much higher the chance of survival is; antibiotics are used to fight it, and the earlier the patient begins to receive these the better their outlook.

Signs of sepsis in an adult include slurred speech or confusion, extreme shivering/muscle pain, no urine being passed in a day, severe breathlessness, skin mottled or discoloured and generally feeling as though you are going to die. The symptoms differ in children and include breathing very fast, fits or convulsions, looking mottled, bluish or pale, a rash that does not fade when pressed, feeling lethargic or difficulty in waking, abnormally cold to touch.

The new device works to identify if one of the protein biomarkers of sepsis – interleukin-6 (IL-6) is in the patients’ blood. One of the researchers at the University, Dr Damion Corrigan, said that IL-6 is one of the best markers for identifying sepsis.

Dr Corrigan said, “At the moment, the 72-hour blood test is a very labour-intensive process – but the 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.”

He believes the test will be highly effective within GP Surgeries and A&E departments of hospital to quickly rule out or potentially diagnose the condition. He added, “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.”

Dr David Alcorn, Clinical Adviser and Co-Author of the research project said, “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.”

The UK’s Sepsis Trust believe that with earlier diagnosis, around 14,000 lives could potentially be saved each year from sepsis. Chief Executive Office of the Trust, Dr Ron Daniels said, “Any kind of test that enables us to identify sepsis earlier, before symptoms even present themselves, could help save even more lives and bring us closer to our goal of ending preventable deaths from sepsis.”

He added, “Systems like this are so important as, with every hour before the right antibiotics are administered, risk of death increases. No test is perfect in the identification of sepsis, it’s crucial we continue to educate clinicians to think sepsis in order to prompt them to use such tests.”


BBC News. ‘Sepsis: New Rapid Test ‘Could Save Thousands of Lives’’. BBC News Online.  (19th February 2019).

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