[ASC-media] Fighting septic shock

Sarah Brooker sarah.brooker at gmail.com
Wed Aug 9 16:06:17 CEST 2006

A potential new treatment for septic shock and other inflammatory diseases
has been discovered by Monash Institute researchers. 

There are 18 million cases of septic shock each year, causing 500,000
deaths. But there is no effective treatment to this overloading of the
body's immune response.

"Our treatment in mice demonstrated a beneficial effect and has been
patented. Now we need a commercial partner to further develop the concept,"
says Kristian Jones, a post-doctoral fellow at the Monash Institute of
Medical Research. 

"Interestingly, Monash researchers including David de Kretser AC (now
Governor of Victoria), discovered follistatin in 1990. But it was thought
that it was just a reproductive protein."

"We've now discovered that follistatin also plays an important role in
controlling inflammation," says Kristian. 

Septic shock is caused by the spread of an infection to the whole body
forcing the body's normal inflammatory response to go into overdrive. 

A few years ago we found that another protein, activin, is produced by the
body in response to inflammation. It is thought to help stimulate

In mice we found that follistatin was also being released and was binding to
activin and neutralising it. When we gave the mice more follistatin it
increased their chance of surviving sepsis. 

We believe that the follistatin moderated the activin and dampened the
inflammatory response.

Septic shock is the leading cause of mortality after heart disease in
intensive care units, costing billions of dollars in healthcare costs every
year. These findings raise hopes of using follistatin to save lives.

The human body is under a persistent threat from infections but it has
adapted to deal with this threat. Normally the body uses its defence or
immune system together with inflammation to control infection. 

Sometimes an infection escapes the defence system and quickly spreads to a
number of organs and the blood stream resulting in septic shock. This is now
a very serious infection and the body needs to react strongly to control it.
Sometimes the body quickly over-reacts, throwing its all at the infection,
and damaging itself. 

It is this uncontrolled inflammatory response in septic shock that can lead
to vital organs being damaged and in many cases death.

As well as looking for commercial partners, we are further exploring how
follistatin interacts with activin. We've already found that patients with
sepsis also have high levels of activin and follistatin. If follistatin's
role in managing inflammation is confirmed, it could assist with rheumatoid
arthritis, asthma and other inflammatory diseases.

Kristian is one of sixteen Fresh Scientists participating in a media boot
camp at Melbourne Museum. 

The best Fresh Scientist will win a study tour of the United Kingdom
courtesy of British Council Australia.

Media contacts: Sarah Brooker on 0413 332 489 and Niall Byrne on 0417 131
977 or niall at freshscience.org 	

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