A novel discovery that could help halt deadly immune response has been made by scientists from Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD) and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) in Norfolk, Va.
They have teased out the molecular process that can shut down a marauding immune response that kills thousands each year who suffer battlefield casualties, heart attacks, strokes, automobile accidents and oxygen deprivation.
"Military medics and ER doctors know that one of the most common killers is an out-of-control immune system that destroys organs after a patient who has suffered a trauma is ostensibly stabilized," said lead researcher Dr Neel Krishna, from Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters (CHKD).
The researchers made the finding when they inserted a shell of a virus that causes childhood diarrhea into a Petri dish primed to measure the response of primordial immune system.
The complement reaction completely stopped.
"Stopping this reaction pharmacologically could save lives on the battlefield, in hospital emergency rooms and in neonatal intensive care centres, where doctors struggle to save oxygen-deprived newborns," said Krishna.
"Temporarily stopping the response could have a huge impact in trauma and save many lives," he added.
The complement system exists in almost identical form in everything from seagulls to starfish.
Its job is to launch a massive, multi-pronged attack against any foreign body that could threaten the life or health of an organism.
In the case of trauma that leaves cells without oxygen for too long, the complement system kicks in when the re-oxygenation occurs and lays waste to partially damaged cells that might otherwise survive. This is known as a reperfusion injury.
This process kills slowly, often over several days. In heart attacks, the death of heart cells, cardiomyocytes, during reperfusion is irreversible and lethal.
In cases of trauma and hypoxia, the progressive death of brain cells often results in catastrophic, irreversible brain injury or death. Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome caused by reperfusion injury is the leading cause of death in surgical patients and in trauma patients who survive the first 24 hours.
The researchers suggest that stopping the complement cascade could eliminate the major cause.
The study is published in journal Molecular Immunology.