Scientists at Stanford University have developed a test for the early detection of sepsis, a bacterial infection of the blood. In newborns, sepsis can be lethal in as little as six hours. Since there has been no way to detect sepsis until it becomes serious, hospitals routinely administer antibiotics to hundreds of thousands of infants--even though only 10% of those treated actually have blood infections. Treating the other 90% is unwise, medically, and costs $800 million per year.
The new test, which takes just 15 to 20 minutes, uses fluorescent antibodies that signal the presence of certain protein markers on the surface of white blood cells called neutrophils. These markers spread rapidly on cells that have been exposed to the bacteria causing sepsis. The test has been licensed to CompuCyte Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., which has begun clinical trials at Boston University Medical Center. CompuCyte hopes to market a drug before 2002.