Host-Based Diagnostics for Acute Respiratory Infections.

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PURPOSE:The inappropriate use of antimicrobials, especially in acute respiratory infections (ARIs), is largely driven by difficulty distinguishing bacterial, viral, and noninfectious etiologies of illness. A new frontier in infectious disease diagnostics looks to the host response for disease classification. This article examines how host response-based diagnostics for ARIs are being used in clinical practice, as well as new developments in the research pipeline. METHODS:A limited search was conducted of the relevant literature, with emphasis placed on literature published in the last 5 years (2014-2019). FINDINGS:Advances are being made in all areas of host response-based diagnostics for ARIs. Specifically, there has been significant progress made in single protein biomarkers, as well as in various "omics" fields (including proteomics, metabolomics, and transcriptomics) and wearable technologies. There are many potential applications of a host response-based approach; a few key examples include the ability to discriminate bacterial and viral disease, presymptomatic diagnosis of infection, and pathogen-specific host response diagnostics, including modeling disease progression. IMPLICATIONS:As biomarker measurement technologies continue to improve, host response-based diagnostics will increasingly be translated to clinically available platforms that can generate a holistic characterization of an individual's health. This knowledge, in the hands of both patient and provider, can improve care for the individual patient and help fight rising rates of antibiotic resistance.





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Ross, Melissa H, Brittany L Zick and Ephraim L Tsalik (2019). Host-Based Diagnostics for Acute Respiratory Infections. Clinical therapeutics, 41(10). pp. 1923–1938. 10.1016/j.clinthera.2019.06.007 Retrieved from

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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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