"The real pandemic is rot"
By Michael Allen
Professor Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis has spent the last 18 years searching for mia new treatment for sepsis, a disease that kills an estimated 11 million people worldwide each year.
This fact ranks sepsis as the fifth leading cause of death worldwide.
In the last four years, about 40 million people have died from sepsis, according to estimates by the World Health Organization.
Sepsis is the immune system's extreme reaction to an infection, which is usually bacterial.
This reaction is triggered when an infection first manifests itself in one organ and then spreads throughout the body.
Without early diagnosis and medical treatment, sepsis can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.
Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis, who is the president of the European Sepsis Alliance, focuses his research on the search for the mechanism of stimulation of the human body's immune system, so that it can undertake the same remedial action and fight the infection.
This approach is called immunotherapy.
"If the natural function of the immune system is restored, then we expect that the spread of the infection will be stopped," he said.
The EU project Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis is working on involves a human clinical trial of an immunotherapy to treat sepsis and is expected to complete its four-year implementation next month.
The project, called ImmunoSep, which is coordinated by Professor Mihai G. Netea from Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, also brings together experts from France, Germany, Italy, Romania and Switzerland.
Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis talks about the urgent need to fight the rot, comparing it to the coronavirus pandemic that broke out at the end of 2019.
Globally, 7 million people have died from coronavirus in the last four years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In the same period, about 40 million people have died from sepsis, according to WHO estimates and published data.
"Everyone talks about the coronavirus, but no one mentions the rot," pointed out Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis. "The real pandemic is rot."
While antibiotics are so far the only effective way to fight sepsis, to reduce the number of deaths, diagnosis must be improved and treatment options expanded.
Putrefaction is both a result and a cause of changes in immune system of patients.
“This change that occurs in the function of the immune system is not the same for every patient" says Giamarellos-Bourboulis.
In general, there are two kinds of immune responses: hyperactivation, in which the immune system acts uncontrollably, causing extensive damage, and immunoparalysis, in which the immune system fails to respond to the infection and becomes inactive.
Evangelos Giamarellos-Bourboulis' group has created highly accurate tests to distinguish between immune hyperactivation and immunoparalysis.
It has also looked at possible treatments to restore immune system function in both cases.
The ImmunoSep clinical trial aims to apply these tests and treatments to 280 patients with sepsis.
The results are expected in the spring of 2024.
This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU's Research and Innovation journal.
Research for the article was funded by the EU.