By restraining the action of an immune system protein that can run amok, scientists experimenting on mice have reversed the course of severe sepsis, an often-lethal blood infection that shuts down vital organs. The work suggests that neutralizing this protein would halt the disease in some people, but researchers acknowledge that a human trial is still years away.
Sepsis arises as a complication of pneumonia, appendicitis, burns, infections, trauma, or other factors. Cell damage, either by microbial toxins or injury, sets off the immune reaction that leads to severe sepsis. As the body lurches into a self-defense mode, it mass-produces inflammatory proteins, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and high-mobility group
box 1 (HMGB1).