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Sepsis Under The Microscope

Nursing professor's research is tackling Clark County's high mortality rate due to sepsis. Join her University Forum presentation to learn about the types of immune cells involved in sepsis and discuss treatments to boost these immune cells.
Campus News  |  Oct 20, 2014  |  By UNLV News Center
UNLV associate professor of nursing Barbara St. Pierre Schneider uses pressure cylinders, like the one she is pictured with, to simulate the effects of air pressure on healing muscle tissue. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)
Editor's Note: 

The College of Liberal Arts' University Forum Lecture Series presents "The Immune System and Sepsis Under the Microscope," at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Barrick Museum Auditorium. The talk will feature UNLV nursing professor Barbara St. Pierre Schneider and Charles C. Caldwell, a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Medical researchers often struggle with advancing their findings to the clinical setting and directly helping patients. School of Nursing professor and medical researcher Barbara St. Pierre Schneider advocates the immediate use of flow cytometers -- a primary research tool -- in medical treatment centers to diagnose a potentially fatal condition called sepsis.

What is sepsis and why is it dangerous?

Sepsis is a medical condition in which the immune system's response to an infection leads to inflammation in multiple organs. This inflammation can decrease the flow of blood, resulting in organ failure. In certain cases, reduced blood flow to vital organs can induce septic shock, which can be fatal.

Diagnosing sepsis early is challenging, contributing to its danger. Initial clinical symptoms, such as small changes in blood oxygen, are vague and mirror other conditions.

How many people are affected by sepsis in the U.S. and Clark County?

Sepsis can occur at all ages. Those at greatest risk are infants, children, and the elderly. People with an impaired immune system, chronic illness, physical trauma, or burns are also more susceptible to sepsis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis affects more than 1 million people annually in the United States and has a mortality rate as high as 50 percent. The sepsis mortality rate in Clark County is similar to the national rate.

What has recent research revealed about sepsis?

Those studying sepsis often use a flow cytometer. A flow cytometer is like a microscope in that certain characteristics about cells can be detected. Unlike a microscope, a flow cytometer with its lasers and fluorescent detectors can capture this information from thousands of cells within seconds to minutes. By using a flow cytometer, researchers have discovered that certain substances on the surface of immune cells change during sepsis. These changes, for example, can identify specific immune cells that have a reduced ability to fight infection.

Not only can detecting these changes help in the diagnosis of sepsis, but these changes can also aid in the development of new treatments to ensure that immune cells function properly.

Why should flow cytometry become a clinical tool?

Although primarily used by researchers, the flow cytometer may be a powerful diagnostic tool. Flow cytometry can identify immune cell patterns that current clinical diagnostic instruments and processes cannot. Medical professionals in hospitals and treatment centers may be able to use a flow cytometer to identify the presence of sepsis early and monitor how sepsis is affecting the body, which will ultimately aid in developing treatment regimens.

By helping to diagnose sepsis early and identify effective treatments, flow cytometry in the clinical setting may help in reducing the sepsis mortality rate affecting our county and our country.