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article imageA cure for sepsis? Chance discovery could save lives

By Tim Sandle     Mar 26, 2017 in Science
A chance discovery by a medic working at Eastern Virginia Medical School could be the basis of a cure for sepsis. The discovery could lead to thousands of lives being saved each year.
The serendipitous discovery was made by Paul Marik, who is the Chief of Critical Care at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. He made his findings while looking after patients at the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
The discovery takes the form of mix of three compounds: vitamin C, steroids (hydrocortisone) and thiamine. These, when combined, are designed to be administered intravenously. To test out the combination, Dr. Marik used two groups, both treated in the same ICU, one before the use of the compound and the other after the use of the compound. Prior to the treatment (the first group) 19 of 47 patients diagnosed with sepsis died from the disease. With the group given the compound, there were no deaths from sepsis (based on a patient population of the same size – 47 people). Patients with sepsis showed signs of recovery within a few hours of the treatment. The treatment was also assessed by running laboratory studies. This involved testing the mixture against human lung cells.
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United States Marine Corps., via Wikimedia Commons
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to infection injures its own tissues and organs. Symptoms consist of fever, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and confusion. With the elderly, young people and those who are immunocompromised, the body temperature may be lower. Risk of death arises with severe sepsis, which leads to poor organ function or reduced blood flow. Sepsis remains a very common cause of death among hospitalized patients, generally arising from bacterial blood stream infections.
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The basis of the new compound was that septic patients have little or undetectable levels of vitamin C in their cells. Understanding this Dr. Marik began to prepare his new mixture. Thiamine is added because it assists cells to absorb vitamin C. An added benefit is that the mixture is inexpensive to manufacture, coming in around $60 per treatment.
Commenting on the new study, Dr. Richard Homan, who is the president of the Eastern Virginia Medical School said: “Dr. Marik has developed a brilliant and elegantly simple hypothesis in the treatment of sepsis. The implications of the findings of this study are profound and, if replicated, may transform the treatment of sepsis worldwide.”
The research has been published in the journal CHEST (American College of Chest Physicians). The research paper is headed “Hydrocortisone, vitamin C and Thiamine for the Treatment of Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock: A Retrospective Before-After Study.”
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