- Sepsis is a life-threatening inflammatory response to an infection, doctors say
- NSAIDs work by blocking an enzyme in the body that causes inflammation
- But scientists found they can also inhibit another enzyme responsible for it
Sepsis can rob someone of their life in minutes.
But a potentially life-saving treatment has been under our noses for decades, groundbreaking new research suggests.
Drugs similar to aspirin and ibuprofen were found to stop the deadly response to an infection in worms.
And experts claim the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could work in humans by blocking an enzyme that can trigger sepsis.
They are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide, and are taken by more than 30 million people every day.
Drugs similar to aspirin and ibuprofen were found to prevent sepsis in a study on worms
But they can also produce serious side effects, with some linked to an increased risk of heart attacks.
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s immune system over-reacts to an infection and starts attacking its own tissues and organs.
It kills as many as half of those who contract it, sometimes within days, figures suggest.
As the number of cases rises, pharmaceutical companies have been scrambling to develop a drug to fight it.
But the new findings from the University of Colorado Boulder could point them in a more obvious direction.
Researchers have long known that NSAIDs work in part by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase.
Experts claim they could work in humans by blocking an enzyme that can trigger sepsis (stock)
WHAT IS SEPSIS?
Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection.Without quick treatment, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death.
If sepsis is detected early and hasn’t affected vital organs yet, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics.
Almost all people with severe sepsis and septic shock require admission to hospital. Some people may require admission to an intensive care unit.
Because of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal.
There are around 123,000 cases of sepsis a year in England. Around 37,000 people die.
Each year more than 1 million people in the US contract it, killing half, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Source: NHS Choices
But the new study, published in Cell Chemical Biology, found a subgroup of the drugs inhibited another family of enzymes called caspase.
Foreign bacteria can trigger cells to kill themselves by penetrating their wall and activating this enzyme.
This in turn causes inflammation, which can lead to sepsis.
In a study on worms, the researchers found the drugs were effective in delaying cell death by blocking the caspase activity.
Study author Hang Hubert Yin said: ‘NSAIDS like ibuprofen and aspirin are among the most prevalent pharmaceuticals worldwide.
‘But their precise mechanisms of action are not entirely understood.
‘We provide the first evidence for a novel mechanism of action for NSAIDS, one we believe could have a direct impact on people’s lives.’
‘To think about the wide potential applications of these NSAID drugs is very exciting.’
However, the researchers are unsure whether existing NSAIDs could be used to treat sepsis due to their side effects.
But they believe they could be re-purposed to address other conditions, including arthritis and dementia.