New research from the University of California, San Diego, moves researchers closer to understanding and developing treatments for shock, sepsis and multiorgan failure.
The research was published in the Jan. 23 issue of Science Translational Medicine.
Collectively, these maladies represent a major unmet medical need: they are the number one cause of mortality in intensive care units in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. There is currently no treatment for these conditions in spite of many clinical trials.
Most researchers agree that organ failure in shock and sepsis involves the intestine - and that it arises when the mucosal barrier of the small intestine becomes permeable. However, the mechanism by which this disrupted membrane is tied to vastly different kinds of shock, as well as multiorgan failure and death has not been understood.
In the case of sepsis (septic shock), for example, some researchers speculate that bacteria in the intestine and their toxins are responsible for organ failure. However, interventions against bacteria that are aimed at reducing mortality in patients undergoing septic shock have been unsuccessful in clinical trials.
Looking more broadly than bacteria, a team of researchers led by Geert W. Schmid-Schönbein in the Department of Bioengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering has carried out several years of careful analysis of the events in shock. That research led them to investigate the powerful, concentrated digestive enzymes in the intestine, the same enzymes that are part of daily digestion.
These digestive enzymes need to be restricted to the inside of the small intestine by the mucosal barrier. Once this barrier is disrupted, which can occur for a variety of reasons including dramatic loss of blood, physical puncture or opening (as in shrapnel injury or appendicitis), or degradation by bacterial toxins, digestive enzymes leak into the wall of the intestine and begin digesting it, a phenomenon the UC San Diego researchers call "autodigestion". Once beyond the mucosal barrier of the small intestine, the UC San Diego researchers believe the digestive enzymes damage other organs by indiscriminately starting to degrade them, which can lead to multiorgan failure and death.
The new research, published in the Jan. 23 issue of Science Translational Medicine
, provides novel results linking digestive enzymes to shock, sepsis and multiorgan failure. In particular, by administering digestive enzyme blockers directly into the small intestines of rats an hour after the onset of different types of shock, the researchers led by Schmid-Schönbein reversed the often fatal conditions, reduced injury to the heart and lungs, and greatly increased long-term survival of the animals from about 16 percent to 86 percent.