Sepsis Subclasses: A Framework for Development and Interpretation.

Abstract

Sepsis is defined as a dysregulated host response to infection that leads to life-threatening acute organ dysfunction. It afflicts approximately 50 million people worldwide annually and is often deadly, even when evidence-based guidelines are applied promptly. Many randomized trials tested therapies for sepsis over the past 2 decades, but most have not proven beneficial. This may be because sepsis is a heterogeneous syndrome, characterized by a vast set of clinical and biologic features. Combinations of these features, however, may identify previously unrecognized groups, or "subclasses" with different risks of outcome and response to a given treatment. As efforts to identify sepsis subclasses become more common, many unanswered questions and challenges arise. These include: 1) the semantic underpinning of sepsis subclasses, 2) the conceptual goal of subclasses, 3) considerations about study design, data sources, and statistical methods, 4) the role of emerging data types, and 5) how to determine whether subclasses represent "truth." We discuss these challenges and present a framework for the broader study of sepsis subclasses. This framework is intended to aid in the understanding and interpretation of sepsis subclasses, provide a mechanism for explaining subclasses generated by different methodologic approaches, and guide clinicians in how to consider subclasses in bedside care.

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Published Version (Please cite this version)

10.1097/ccm.0000000000004842

Publication Info

DeMerle, Kimberley M, Derek C Angus, J Kenneth Baillie, Emily Brant, Carolyn S Calfee, Joseph Carcillo, Chung-Chou H Chang, Robert Dickson, et al. (2021). Sepsis Subclasses: A Framework for Development and Interpretation. Critical care medicine, 49(5). pp. 748–759. 10.1097/ccm.0000000000004842 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22719.

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Scholars@Duke

Tsalik

Ephraim Tsalik

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine

My research at Duke has focused on understanding the dynamic between host and pathogen so as to discover and develop host-response markers that can diagnose and predict health and disease.  This new and evolving approach to diagnosing illness has the potential to significantly impact individual as well as public health considering the rise of antibiotic resistance.

With any potential infectious disease diagnosis, it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine at the time of presentation what the underlying cause of illness is.  For example, acute respiratory illness is among the most frequent reasons for patients to seek care. These symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, and fever may be due to a bacterial infection, viral infection, both, or a non-infectious condition such as asthma or allergies.  Given the difficulties in making the diagnosis, most patients are inappropriately given antibacterials.  However, each of these etiologies (bacteria, virus, or something else entirely) leaves a fingerprint embedded in the host’s response. We are very interested in finding those fingerprints and exploiting them to generate new approaches to understand, diagnose, and manage disease.

These principles also apply to sepsis, defined as life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Just as with acute respiratory illness, it is often difficult to identify whether infection is responsible for a patient’s critical illness.  We have embarked on a number of research programs that aim to better identify sepsis; define sepsis subtypes that can be used to guide future clinical research; and to better predict sepsis outcomes.  These efforts have focused on many systems biology modalities including transcriptomics, miRNA, metabolomics, and proteomics.  Consequently, our Data Science team has utilized these highly complex data to develop new statistical methods, furthering both the clinical and statistical research communities.

These examples are just a small sampling of the breadth of research Dr. Tsalik and his colleagues have conducted.  

In April 2022, Dr. Tsalik has joined Danaher Diagnostics as the VP and Chief Scientific Officer for Infectious Disease, where he is applying this experience in biomarkers and diagnostics to shape the future of diagnostics in ID. 


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