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Researchers have discovered a molecule that could be used to treat sepsis

Photo: Breakthrough in battle against sepsis
Gold Coast researchers hope their discovery could soon lead to a new drug to treat sepsis and save millions of lives.

Australian researchers have discovered a molecule that could be used to treat sepsis, potentially saving millions of lives each year.

Sepsis occurs when the body's immune response to an infection starts to damage its own tissues and organs. It causes between six and nine million deaths worldwide each year.

Common symptoms include fever, mottled skin, rapid breathing and heart rate, a rash, confusion and disorientation.

Gold Coast researchers hope their discovery will result in a drug to combat sepsis by 2018.

"Sepsis kills many millions of people per year and yet there is very little that can be done when someone comes into septic shock," says Professor Mark von Itzstein of Griffith University's Institute for Glycomics.
"So, having now discovered a small molecule that actually can combat sepsis, we hope that, as that drug goes through human trials, it will make a difference and save lives."

The new drug could potentially be worth billions of dollars.

Researchers at the Glycomics Institute study the way sugars and carbohydrates interact with the cells in the body.

They have found that viruses, bacteria and even cancer cells attach themselves to sugars found on each of our cells.

"In the last 20 years what we have discovered is that there is an intricate language in healthy biology but unfortunately also in diseased biology," Prof von Itzstein says.

"When we breathe in a virus it hunts for sugars on cells, so it can connect - it's almost like an alien coming down from outer space wanting to land in the right spot. The right spots are specific sugars attached to these cells."

Once attached, the virus or bacteria then spread throughout the body.

In combating sepsis, the Glycomics institute found the same sugars could be used to dampen the immune response to the bacteria.

"Sepsis is this over-response from our immune system that starts to attack our cells and it starts to kill cells as a consequence of that immune response," Prof von Itzstein says.

He said the molecule they discovered interacts with part of the process of the immune system response.

"As a consequence, when it does actually engage and block, it neutralises that immune system response and it dampens that septic shock."

The sepsis molecule is the latest discovery to come out of the Gold Coast Glycomics Institute.

The team already has drugs in clinical trials for malaria, Ross River fever and influenza. It is also researching potential new cures for cancer.

The Glycomics institute was founded in 1999 by Professor von Itzstein. It is the only institute of this kind in the southern hemisphere.

AAP, in collaboration with the City of Gold Coast and Gold Coast Tourism, is publishing a range of newsworthy content in the lead-up to the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

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