Even though you can get a life-threatening case of sepsis from something as small as a cut on your finger, the treatment for it hasn’t changed much over the past several decades.
If you aren’t already familiar, sepsis is a condition that can rise out of almost any infection, and it kills about 20 to 40 per cent of its victims. In fact, it even took the life of actress Patty Duke last week. It currently affects roughly 50,000 Canadians each year and is most prevalent in patients with compromised immune systems, because it essentially makes your body’s defense mechanisms work against you. Once the condition takes hold, it causes a runaway infection to invade the body, eventually leading to organ failure.
If some Canadian researchers have their way though, sepsis will soon be a thing of the past.
The Ottawa Hospital recently began human trials for a new sepsis treatment involving stem cells. Specifically, mesenchymal stem cells. Once injected into the body, these cells travel to sites of injury or infection and have a modulating effect on an overactive immune system. The treatment already worked to save Ontario resident Charles Bernique, whose lungs and kidneys were already beginning to shut down by the time doctors diagnosed him. Knowing they had to act fast, staff gave the 73 year old the option to undergo the experimental stem cell treatment.
Needless to say, he agreed.
Doctors kept Bernique loaded up with antibiotics as they normally would and supported his failing organs. The only difference was that they also injected him with the stem cells–about 30 million of them. But after just four months, Bernique went from a nearly hopeless cause to being healthy enough to return to work.
“And we were quite surprised actually in … the degree of benefit we got,” Dr. Duncan Stewart, the head of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, said. “What I can tell you is things have gone very well so far, so it looks like this has been very safe and the results have certainly been encouraging enough that we’ve got a lot of enthusiasm for moving forward.”
So far, there haven’t been any adverse reactions to the stem cell treatment. Doctors are now looking to begin Phase 2 of the study, which will involve a larger test group.