A successful treatment for sepsis, an often fatal disorder in which the body’s immune response spirals wildly out of control, has long eluded scientists. Now, it appears that an antidepressant drug indicated for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might be able to keep people from dying of sepsis.
“Sepsis is very common and very dangerous,” says Alban Gaultier, PhD, a researcher in the University of Virginia’s Department of Neuroscience and its Center for Brain Immunology and Glia and a co-author of the research study in Science Translational Medicine about the finding.
“The death rate of dying from sepsis is high,” says Dr. Gaultier. “Up to 20 percent of people who contract sepsis will die from it. About 1.7 million come down with sepsis every year, and around 270,000 each year die from it.”
Dr. Gaultier says, one in three people who die in a hospital die from sepsis. In sepsis, the result of the body’s extreme response to an infection is that there is tissue damage, organ failure, and, sometimes, death. “There is no good treatment for sepsis, and there clearly is a critical need for new treatment,” Dr. Gaultier adds.
Recently, Dr. Gaultier and his team discovered that a drug used to treat OCD may be used to treat sepsis. Since the already had undergone safety testing, it’s possible it could be fast-tracked to use in hospitals to treat sepsis, Dr. Gaultier says. “We were studying a particular protein and we realized that this protein was also important in the inflammatory response,” he said. “We found that there are drugs targeting this program on the market and we tested them in mice.”
They found that the drug, an antidepressant called fluvoxamine, could stop sepsis in a mouse model of the disease. So far, the drug has not been tested in humans but Dr. Gaultier feels that it could be.
“We hope to test it next in patients,” he says. “The good news is that it is already approved as a treatment so it could go from bench to bedside pretty quickly if we can validate our findings in sepsis patients. It is exciting and a potentially good treatment for sepsis.”
What does this mean for physicians? “Doctors should keep this information on their radar,” Dr. Gaultier says. “We have found a novel pathway that could control inflammation in sepsis. With sepsis, you don’t die from the bacteria but from the excess inflammation. This drug controls the excessive inflammation that drives the pathology.”
Last updated on 9/27/19.