Researchers at UVA looking at antidepressant to treat sepsis

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WCAV) — Research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggests an antidepressant drug that has been used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder may help people facing sepsis.

According to a release, sepsis is a significant cause of death around the world, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call the “body's extreme response to an infection.”

When a person has sepsis, the body's immune response has spiraled out of control, and normally beneficial inflammation has become harmful, which can result in tissue damage, organ failure and even death.

“Sepsis is very dangerous. In the U.S., 1.7 million get it every year, and 270,000 people die,” said researcher Alban Gaultier, PhD, of UVA's Department of Neuroscience. “Once you get diagnosed, you have a high chance of mortality. And there is no good treatment. Basically, we will try to keep you alive and monitor you as much as we can. So clearly, there is a critical need for treatment.”

The release says Gaultier and his team have identified a drug that could offer such a treatment, and previous safety testing of the drug could put it on a fast-track for use in hospitals around the country.

The researchers were looking at a biological process inside cells that has not been well-studied when they learned it plays an important role in regulating inflammation.

Gaultier began studying it partly because there are already drugs that can affect parts of that process.

“Inflammation, most of the time, is good. It's when it gets out of control that we need to modulate it,” he said. “Inflammation is a very precisely controlled reaction. When we need it and have too much, it's a problem, but when we don't have enough, it's also a problem.”

The researchers specifically looked at the antidepressant fluvoxamine to evaluate its potential to stop sepsis.

When tested in mice, nine percent of the mice given fluvoxamine died, compared to 62 percent of the untreated mice.

The drug still needs to be tested in people to see if it would be effective in battling human sepsis.

Gaultier hypothesizes the same biological process could also be targeted to generate beneficial inflammation when needed.

He plans to continue his research, including testing this secondary hypothesis.

The findings have been published in Science Translational Medicine.