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New research into one of the UK's biggest killers

Published 13 November 2012

A consortium involving the University of Brighton has been awarded close to £400,000 for research into a diagnostic aid to combat one of the UK's biggest killers.

Sepsis, triggered by infection, results in whole body inflammation and kills more than 36,000 people every year. It takes up one-third of critical care capacity and costs the NHS more than £2 billion a year.

Dr Carol Howell and Dr Susan Sandeman, principal research fellows at the university's School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, are working with a consortium to establish protein biomarkers that can identify the early onset of sepsis.

The biomarker panel, it is hoped, will more speedily diagnose sepsis and result in earlier treatment and, in doing so, save lives.

Dr Carol Howell (left) and Dr Susan Sandeman.

Dr Carol Howell (left) and Dr Susan Sandeman.

Dr Howell, who is leading the University of Brighton team, said early diagnosis is essential for the successful management of treatment. She said: "Unfortunately, the clinical symptoms of sepsis are non-specific, making it challenging to accurately identify and differentiate sepsis from other non-infectious causes of systemic inflammation. This can lead to over-administration of unnecessary antibiotics."

Dr Howell said recent UK studies showed that patients admitted to intensive care units with severe sepsis had a 39.8 per cent risk of death: "Presently, 27 per cent of all critical care admissions in the UK are due to severe sepsis and account for 46 per cent of all critical care bed days and 33 per cent of all hospital bed days, resulting in over £2.3 billion in annual costs to the NHS."

Funding for the research has come from the government's Technology Strategy Board.

Managing the project is David Ure from Inanovate, a Birmingham-based company specialising in creating protein screening technologies. Other consortium members are The Manchester Academic Health Science Centre including Dr Paul Dark, an NHS-based expert in The School of Translational Medicine (STM), University of Manchester; and Professor Geoff Warhurst from Salford Royal NHS Trust.

Dr Howell said: "We are excited about being involved in this research. We hope to deliver a set of diagnostic markers that could play an important role in aiding the early diagnosis of sepsis, and ultimately reduce the high mortality rates of patients with sepsis."

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