New Rapid Test Could Mean Earlier Sepsis Diagnosis

University of Strathclyde researchers have developed a test for sepsis that could save thousands of lives.

A study published in the Biosensors and Bioelectronics Journal suggests that the super speedy device may have the ability to produce results in as little as 2.5 minutes. 

Existing tests can take up to 72 hours to process.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis, or blood poisoning, is the body’s overreaction to an infection. According to The UK Sepsis Trust, five people die from it every hour in the UK.

It can start anywhere, even from a simple cut on your finger and if it isn’t treated with antibiotics at an early stage can lead to organ failure and even death.

How is sepsis diagnosed?

Currently diagnosis for sepsis is based on body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, clinical judgement and a series of blood tests.

A blood test to determine the best types of antibiotic for treatment can take up to 72 hours.

Guidelines say that as soon as sepsis is suspected, the patient should be given antibiotics, this may mean that some patients without sepsis are treated for the illness.


According to the NHS, early symptoms of sepsis in older children (over five) and adults are:

  • A high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
  • Chills and shivering
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing

More severe symptoms can be:

  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • A change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
  • Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
  • Loss of consciousness

Symptoms in children under five can be different, things to look out for include:

  • They are mottled, bluish or pale looking
  • They are lethargic and difficult to wake
  • Feeling abnormally cold to touch
  • Fast breathing
  • Rash that doesn’t fade when pressed
  • Fits or convulsions 

Detecting sepsis

The new test determines whether sepsis is present, by detection of interleukin-6 (IL-6) – a protein bio-marker of sepsis in the blood.

Dr Damion Corrigan, co-author of the study at the University of Strathclyde said: "The type of test we envisage could be at the bedside and involve doctors or nurses being able to monitor levels of sepsis biomarkers for themselves."

The device is also capable of detecting what kind of infection a patient has and recommending an antibiotic to treat it.

Dr David Alcorn, the project’s clinical advisor and co-author, said: "The implications for this are massive, and the ability to give the right antibiotic at the right time to the right patient is extraordinary.”

 ‘No one single test’

However, a professor at University College London (UCL) disagrees with the researchers, saying IL-6 molecule is not specific to sepsis, but can be found in any inflammatory condition.

Professor Singer goes on to say: “It’s very unlikely that there would be one single test.”

Further research

The University of Strathclyde says they have designed the device to have eight sensors so that they can add more markers to create a sepsis panel.  

They are applying for further research funding and plan to conduct clinical trials to prove the concept.




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