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New Technique Combines Machine Learning and AI to Rapidly Detect Sepsis, Including From COVID-19

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 12 Jan 2022
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Image: New Technique Combines Machine Learning and AI to Rapidly Detect Sepsis, Including From COVID-19 (Photo courtesy of Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash)
Image: New Technique Combines Machine Learning and AI to Rapidly Detect Sepsis, Including From COVID-19 (Photo courtesy of Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash)

A groundbreaking advance in quickly detecting sepsis using machine learning could dramatically cut the risk of death from one of the biggest killers in the world that is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide, including those from severe COVID-19 disease.

The new technique pioneered by researchers at The University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC, Canada) combines machine learning and AI to rapidly detect sepsis. Sepsis, which is difficult to detect early, is defined as the body’s dysfunctional response to an infection and has a variety of symptoms - including fever, fatigue, hyperventilation and a fast heart rate - that may appear at first to be from other diseases.

It usually takes 24-48 hours before physicians and healthcare providers can be certain the patient has sepsis. But for every hour’s delay in providing treatment - typically a potent regimen of antibiotics - the risk of death increases by as much as 7.6%, highlighting the need for rapid detection. Because sepsis is so common, rampant antimicrobial resistance is a risk if antibiotics are used more than necessary. For the study, which included the largest-ever clinical genomics study of emergency room (ER) patients, researchers examined a total of 348 patients across four different continents. They confirmed their findings by re-examining two other large studies for a total of 1,062 patients. The blood of these patients underwent sequencing that revealed the expression levels of genes, which determines which proteins are produced and thus served to report on the immune status (including dysfunction) of sepsis patients.

The research showed that severe sepsis can be detected when a person first arrives for medical care. Using machine learning, also known as artificial intelligence, the researchers were able to identify sets of genes that predict whether a patient will acquire severe sepsis, and could make sense of the five distinct ways (subtypes/endotypes) in which sepsis manifests itself. This will lead to tests that allow healthcare providers to quickly identify the body’s dysfunctional response to an infection by measuring these specific gene-expression biomarkers associated with the disease.

The technique is also 97% accurate in identifying which of the five endotypes of sepsis occurs in each patient. This is important because two subtypes are associated with a much higher risk of severe sepsis and death. These biomarkers also worked in the ICU, where it was shown that one endotype was particularly deadly, with a mortality rate of 46%. Quickly identifying the type of sepsis will help physicians determine the appropriate treatment. The team also identified other biomarkers that assess the severity of sepsis (e.g. causing organ failure) and the risk of death. The technology for measuring gene expression is already present in hospitals, and the technique can be performed within two hours of admission to the ER.

“This new technique dissects the dysfunctional immune responses involved in sepsis like never before, providing new insights into the biological processes involved in sepsis of any type, including that from COVID-19,” said Arjun Baghela, a graduate student in the Hancock Lab who led the analysis. “People don’t know much about sepsis, but in 2020, the numbers of deaths from life-threatening sepsis are likely much higher than one in five, since pretty much everyone who has died from COVID-19 has actually died from sepsis.”

Related Links:
The University of British Columbia 


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