Canadian researchers receive grant to test stem-cell therapy for septic shock

OTTAWA A team of Canadian researchers has been awarded $442,000 to test the world's first experimental stem-cell therapy aimed at patients who suffer from septic shock, a runaway infection of the bloodstream that's notoriously difficult to treat.

The federal grant will allow researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute to use mesenchymal stem cells, found in the bone marrow of healthy adults, to treat as many as 15 patients with septic shock.

The deadly infection occurs when toxic bacteria spreads rapidly throughout the body and over-activates the immune system, leading to multiple organ failure and death in up to 40 per cent of cases.

One in five patients admitted to intensive-care units suffers from septic shock, making it the most common illness among a hospital's sickest of the sick.

Existing treatments focus on early diagnosis and intervention before organs start to fail. Patients with septic shock require aggressive resuscitation measures, large doses of intravenous antibiotics and, often, ventilators to help them breathe.

Yet because the infection can creep up on patients rapidly and cause unpredictable complications, death from septic shock remains relatively common.

The experimental therapy aims to use donor stem cells, grown and purified at the Ottawa laboratory, to dial down the body's hyperactive immune response and reduce the cascade of inflammation that leads to organ failure.

Early results from animal studies even raise the possibility that mesenchymal cells could eliminate the bacteria that causes septic shock, although the impact on humans is not yet known.

"It's a unique feature of the stem cells," said Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre, the intensive-care physician who is leading the trial. "Certainly no other therapy in the past, other than antibiotics, has impacted the bacterial load in the system."

As with other stem cells, mesenchymal cells can turn into a variety of more specialized cells and tissues that help repair and regenerate damaged organs. And because mesenchymal cells are derived from adults, they sidestep the ethical issues arising from the destruction of human embryos needed to make embryonic stem cells.

Canadian researchers receive grant to test stem-cell therapy for septic shock

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