A discovery by scientists at OMRF could play a part in stopping organ damage in patients suffering from trauma or the deadly blood poisoning sepsis.
In a paper published in the journal Blood, OMRF researcher Florea Lupu, Ph.D., has shown how an inhibitor administered at the right time can allow the immune system to go to work against infection and then shut off before it turns its attacks against the body.
The complement system, a part of the immune system, is a crucial part of the body’s defense against foreign pathogens like bacteria. But sometimes the system can go awry, resulting in attacks against the body itself.
“The complement system is very powerful, and in infections like sepsis it kills bacteria by literally punching holes in their cell walls,” Lupu said. “But other problems during sepsis can cause the system to reactivate. And when it does, instead of going after bacteria, it breaks into cells in the tissue, causing organ damage and, eventually, death.”
In laboratory studies, Lupu and collaborator John Lambris, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, found that a properly timed dose of a complement inhibitor, such as Compstatin, could prevent reactivation. This could allow the complement system to do the important work of clearing out bacteria, but then shut down before it harms the patient.
“This could be very useful for patients with sepsis, which kills about 250,000 in the U.S. each year, and also in trauma damage like car accidents, where the complement system is activated by crush injuries,” said Lupu. “There’s also talk of using it in dialysis patients.”
“Dr. Lupu’s work is directly relevant to the treatment of human sepsis,” said Sarah Dunsmore, who oversees sepsis-related research grants at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in Washington, DC, which partially supported the study. “It provides a basis not only for clinical testing of complement-specific drugs in sepsis, but also for further studies of combination therapies that target the early and late stages of sepsis.”
The research was done in collaboration with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center and the University of Oslo.