Shawn Larson, M.D., and James Wynn, M.D., are working on a vaccine to prevent sepsis in premature infants. Sepsis can kill or disable 40 percent of premature babies who become infected.
Larson is an assistant professor in the division of pediatric surgery. Wynn serves as an associate professor of pediatrics in the division of neonatalperinatal medicine.
Their research team believes that stimulating a baby’s immune system can help fight — and even prevent — sepsis.
In neonatal mouse models, introducing components of bacteria into the bloodstream can prompt neutrophils — a type of white blood cell — to seek and destroy the invading organisms, Larson and Wynn found.
“Once these cells find and attack the invaders, for example viruses or bacteria, they signal other immune cells to join the fight,” Larson explained.
Another potential bright spot is an ongoing clinical trial at UF Health and other sites that uses anti-cancer drugs against sepsis. The same drugs that prompt the immune system to attack lung and kidney cancer have shown some effectiveness against secondary infections in sepsis patients, Moldawer said.
While attacking sepsis with research and new clinical tactics is important, it’s also the little things that matter. For hospital workers, good personal hygiene and taking the time to slip on gloves or a mask can make a difference.
“Sepsis requires a team effort,” said Iovine. “The admitted patients are already fragile, so keeping them from getting an infection is extremely important.”