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Queensland research helping parents and kids fight sepsis and superbugs

BDHP-sepsis-project-Adam-Irwin
April 29, 2021 in

The Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Project team has found a direct way to share their ground-breaking research about sepsis with the people most affected – children, young people and their parents.

Last week, Dr Adam Irwin presented the first of a series of real-time Facebook live sessions for CPRKids, which educates parents and caregivers about dealing with health emergencies. The next two sessions are with the team’s clinical nurse consultant in sepsis and one of the family representatives.

As well as discussing common infections and the signs of serious infection and sepsis in children, Dr Irwin presented the team’s research. He shared details about the DIRECT trial, which investigates the use of rapid pathogen genomics to diagnose sepsis earlier. The trial looks at the most critically ill children and adults admitted to ICU with sepsis at Queensland Children’s, Royal Brisbane and Women’s, Prince Charles and Princess Alexandra Hospitals.

Dr Irwin explained this activity is one way to raise awareness of sepsis in parents and carers (as per the national sepsis action plan), increase knowledge of the signs of serious infection in children, and engage parents, carers and children with their research.

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by an abnormal response to an infection resulting in the shut-down of vital organs. Without emergency treatment, sepsis can lead to severe illness, multiple organ failure and death. Every year, close to 20,000 Australians develop sepsis, and more than 5,000 lose their lives to the illness. While anyone can develop sepsis, children, infants, people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, and those with a weak immune system are most at risk.

“We know that the faster and more accurately that we diagnose and treat sepsis, the better the outcome for the child,” Dr Irwin said. “If parents and caregivers are familiar with the signs and symptoms of sepsis, they are more likely to seek emergency treatment earlier. Once a child is in hospital, the use of rapid whole genome sequencing combined with software-guided antibiotic dosing may reduce the time it takes to deliver appropriate antibiotics at optimal doses.”

“The standard approach to sepsis treatment relies on test results from microbiology laboratories that can take up to 48-72 hours, at a critical time for the patients. This delay means clinicians currently begin treatment of sepsis using broad-spectrum antibiotics.

“We are trialling a novel sequencing approach to deliver optimal antimicrobial therapy – that is a tailored antimicrobial agent – quickly. With advances in technology, we have also developed dosing software that can use information about the individual patient and the bacteria to identify the optimal antibiotic and dose.

“By speeding up the diagnosis of sepsis and optimising its treatment, we can deal with the infection more effectively and reduce the risk of complications or death.

“Our research team collaborates with hospitals, universities, laboratories and family representatives across Queensland in an interdisciplinary approach to tackle this serious illness,” Dr Irwin said.

The DIRECT trial received funding support, awarded to Professor Jason Roberts from the Rapid Applied Research Translation (RART) fund. The trial aims to:

  1. Develop a laboratory approach using whole genome sequencing, which will provide a faster genomic characterisation of pathogens for targeted antimicrobial treatment.
  2. Test the feasibility of the clinical use of whole genome sequencing to provide rapid and personalised antimicrobial recommendations for the treatment of infected critically ill adults and children.
  3. Test and apply dosing software to achieve effective antimicrobial exposures, which increase the likelihood of better outcomes in infected critically ill patients.

The project builds on a number of Queensland Genomics’ investments in infectious disease genomics.

Last year, the Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Project team won a global award for its valuable contribution to the fight against sepsis. Their research achievements also address a wider global health issue – the emergency of superbugs, which have emerged because of antibiotic overuse to treat a range of illnesses. Superbugs have developed a resistance to broad-spectrum antibiotics. With rapid diagnostic technology and optimal dosing, health professionals can treat the specific illness with personalised antibiotics, reducing the likelihood of superbugs emerging.

For details about the CPRKids series on sepsis, please see the CPRKids Facebook page.

To learn about the DIRECT trial or other RART-funded projects in Queensland, please email BDHP.

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