Queensland Children’s Hospital clinicians will lead Australia’s largest paediatric sepsis study, with the goal of using gene-expression testing to reduce the time it takes to diagnose the life-threatening infection.

The three-year study, led by a multidisciplinary team under Luregn Schlapbach (pictured), Queensland Children’s Hospital paediatric intensive care specialist and Associate Professor at The University of Queensland, will investigate how different genes in the body are activated or deactivated during a sepsis infection.

Sepsis occurs where there is an abnormal response to infection that causes damage to healthy tissue and organ shut down. The illness claims the lives of around 5,000 Australians each year. Globally, more than 40 per cent of all cases occur in children under five.

A/Prof Schlapbach said the study aimed to use genetic information to develop bedside tests that could reduce the time it takes to diagnose sepsis from the current 24 and 72 hour timeframes to as little as one hour.

“Sepsis can be challenging to recognise in its early stages, and can progress rapidly if antibiotic treatment is started too late,” A/Prof Schlapbach said.

“There is an urgent need for improved diagnostic tests – faster diagnosis has potential to save lives.”

The genomics study will build on previous Children’s Health Queensland trials of children with severe infections, which have been supported by the Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Emergency Medicine Foundation, the Gold Coast Hospital Foundation and Far North Queensland Foundation.

The project has been awarded a $2.4 million grant as part of the Federal Government’s Genomics Health Futures Mission, funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and is also supported by the Children’s Hospital Foundation.