A researcher at Cincinnati Children’s is evaluating a rapid gene test that could identify dangerous infections among hospitalized children before they suffer potentially deadly harm.

Hector Wong, MD, director, Division of Critical Care Medicine, has been awarded a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to pursue new ways to battle septic shock, one of the leading causes of death among hospitalized children.

An estimated 20,000 to 42,000 children a year suffer severe sepsis in the United States and about 4,500 children a year die, according to a study recently published in Critical Care Research and Practice by Cincinnati Children’s researchers Carley Riley, MD, and Derek Wheeler, MD.

Although survival rates have improved dramatically since the 1960s, better ways to detect the early signs of sepsis are needed to further reduce deaths.

“Through this new grant, our research program has evolved to a new phase,” Wong says. “By leveraging genomic data, we can develop new diagnostic tools for septic shock that can enhance decision making in the ICU, support quality improvement work and help identify candidates for clinical trials.”

The study has three key parts:

  • Evaluating whether a specific 100-gene expression test can be used to stratify patients with septic shock according to the severity of their condition.  The idea that a 100-gene test can be completed quickly enough to be useful in a critical care setting reflects how far gene analysis technology has come, Wong says.
  • Assessing a panel of seven protein biomarkers that appear to predict the likelihood of septic shock-associated renal failure (SSARF). Current testing methods often do not produce results in time to allow for beneficial treatments, Wong says.
  • Determining the role mutations in the MMP-8 gene play in the severity of septic shock. MMP-8 has consistently been the highest-expressed gene in previous microarray studies, Wong says. With a variety of MMP-8 inhibitors already available for clinical use, the data from this study could pave the way for better treatments for sepsis.