The £1.3 million CE-microArray project, which is being coordinated by Teesside University and includes eight other European academic and SME partners, has the potential to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to diagnose patients at risk of developing sepsis, one of the most common causes of death in hospitalised patients.
As well as saving countless lives, the research also has the potential to save health services across the world billions of pounds.
Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by the body’s overreaction to an infection and can be triggered either directly by infection or may occur after medical treatment or surgery.
It is estimated that nearly 20,000 people die each day from sepsis worldwide and it is the cause of approximately half a million deaths in Europe each year.
Current methods of diagnosing sepsis involve analysing blood culture and can take up to 72 hours.
In cases of severe sepsis, an earlier diagnosis which leads to the start of antibiotic treatment by just one hour could lead to a 6-10% reduction in mortality rates.
The CE-microArray project plans to use ‘cavity enhanced absorption spectroscopy’ to provide more sensitive, reliable and speedier diagnoses of patients at risk of developing sepsis.
The technique involves improving the sensitivity of blood tests which are based on the absorption of light by passing light many times through the sample.
In conjunction with the development of a more reliable biomarker panel for the diagnosis of sepsis risk, which will be undertaken by academic partners at the University of Freiburg and the University of Ulm in Germany, this could lead to a test which could be up to 100 times more sensitive than conventional testing.
The project is being carried out under the EU Seventh Framework programme (FP7) and is being coordinated by Dr Meez Islam, a Reader in Physical Chemistry in the School of Science & Engineering at Teesside University.
One of the SME partners in the project is Anasyst, a company specialising in novel analytical systems which was spun out of Teesside University research.
Dr Islam said: 'At the end of this project, we hope to have novel ways of testing for sepsis which could have a massive impact across the world.
'We’ve seen that it can work in specialised cases and anything that can speed up the diagnosis times and start treatment earlier, even by a small amount, could potentially save thousands of lives each year.
'In the United States alone, the cost of treatment as a result of hospitalisation for sepsis is thought to be about $17 billion annually so it could have a huge benefit for healthcare budgets as well.'
Professor Zulf Ali, the Dean of Teesside University’s Graduate Research School, and CEO of Anasyst, added: 'This is an extremely prestigious project for Teesside University which could have enormous benefits worldwide.
'It showcases the high quality research which is done at Teesside and the way in which we can work with the healthcare industry to provide practical solutions to global problems.'