A New Approach
The best current treatment is to administer broad-spectrum antibiotics to try to quell the infection after the fact, but this is often too little too late and scientists have sought a better approach for years.
Since many patients who fall victim to sepsis acquire bacterial infections in the hospital, after undergoing major surgeries for instance, one approach would be to try to "prophylactically" protect a patient before he/she undergoes surgery.
Many scientists have sought to achieve such protection through passive immunization--by infusing antibodies into the patient to target the endotoxins. Many of the compounds that have been tested to date have proven to have limited effect, though, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
The TSRI team's approach is fundamentally different. They sought to use active immunization to protect patients against sepsis. Active immunization, used in measles, smallpox and polio vaccines, involves exposing patients to a substance that resembles the pathogen that one is immunizing against.
If the vaccine works, the body responds with an effective immune response both to the vaccine and to the pathogens that are later encountered. In this case, the TSRI team designed a synthetic "glycoconjugate" that mimics one of the most common bacterial endotoxins, called "lipid A."
Post-vaccination, they observed a nearly 95 percent reduction in the inflammatory chemical TNF-alpha which indicated that the vaccine successfully controlled the body's response to infection.