Cracking the Code of Sepsis: How SeptiSearch is Changing the Game for Diagnosis and Treatment

October 31, 2023

Sepsis is a life-threatening disease that occurs when an infection damages the body's own tissues and organs. Worldwide, it causes an estimated 11 million deaths per year (1). However, health workers and researchers still do not fully understand the biological pathways that control if and how a patient might experience sepsis, particularly the progression to severe sepsis. There is also significant variation in how patients respond to existing treatments. New tools for identifying these underlying biological pathways could inform the development of new personalized approaches for diagnosing and treating sepsis.

In a recent study published in Frontiers in Immunology, a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia, led by Dr. Robert Hancock, a member of Action on Sepsis Research Cluster, describe the development of a new tool named SeptiSearch. Created by Travis Blimkie, Jasmine Tam, and Arjun Baghela from the Hancock Lab, SeptiSearch is an extensive database of gene sets collected from thousands of patients who experienced sepsis. The database contains information on more than 3,000 genes and can be searched to explore the role of specific genes and gene sets in sepsis. Not only is this database vast in its collection of sepsis-related genes, the team has also developed a website and application that allows users to explore the database and visualize, compare, and enrich for pathways between user-uploaded gene sets against SeptiSearch’s collection of gene expression data. These public-facing interfaces enable other researchers to easily harness and use SeptiSearch, which will streamline research studies conducted worldwide.

In the publication, the research team demonstrates how SeptiSearch can be used to identify genes that can be used to predict a patient’s progression to severe sepsis. Existing drugs that modify the expression of these genes could potentially serve as new treatments for sepsis. Thus far, Dr. Hancock and his team have used SeptiSearch to identify many such genes and pathways, with the potential for countless more as SeptiSearch continues to be refined and expanded with new data and findings.

SeptiSearch is a supermarket for gene expression data describing all of the genetic studies on sepsis to date in a standardized way. This allows researchers to seamlessly incorporate past studies into their workflow and unlock novel insights to understand and tackle this lethal syndrome. 

- Dr. Robert Hancock

Dr. Robert (Bob) Hancock is a professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. As well, he is the Director for the Centre for Microbial Diseases and Immunity Research, and is a Canada Research Chair in Health and Genomics. His research focuses on designing new therapeutic strategies to treat infections with increasing antibiotic resistance coupled with a dearth of new antibiotic discovery. Dr. Hancock is a key contributor to the Action on Sepsis Research Cluster’s work in innovating technologies that use artificial intelligence to better understand sepsis as a condition and develop therapeutics that identify and leverage existing pathways for combatting sepsis. 

  1. Rudd KE, Johnson SC, Agesa KM, Shackelford KA, Tsoi D, Kievlan DR, et al. Global, regional, and national sepsis incidence and mortality, 1990-2017: analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study. Lancet (London, England). 2020;395(10219):200-11.

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First Nations land acknowledegement

Action on Sepsis operates on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples — xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. We invite everyone to reflect on the traditional territories and land that they currently work and live on.

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