Illinois team receives $2M NIH grant to develop a rapid and accurate point-of-care device to detect sepsis biomarkers


Huan Song

The team, from left: Enrique Valera, Hee-sun Han, Karen White and Rashid Bashir
The team, from left: Enrique Valera, Hee-Sun Han, Karen White and Rashid Bashir

An Illinois research team led by Rashid Bashir, professor in bioengineering and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and dean of The Grainger College of Engineering received a $2M, 4-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Project Grant (R01) for the project, "Point-of-Care Microfluidic Biochip for Biomarkers Monitoring for Contributing in Early Sepsis Diagnosis.” The R01 grant is historically the oldest grant used by the NIH which supports health-related research that aligns with its mission. This research team includes Illinois bioengineering professor Enrique Valera, chemistry professor Hee-Sun Han and Dr. Karen White, an intensive care unit physician at Carle Foundation Hospital.

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition that develops when the body's immune system overreacts to an infection and triggers widespread inflammation. This quick-moving condition can lead to organ failure and even death in a matter of hours. One in three patients who die in a hospital have sepsis and it is a leading cause of hospital readmissions. Sepsis is one of the most deadly and costly conditions for hospitals in the U.S. which makes early detection of this condition a critical need in healthcare systems. 

The current process to diagnose sepsis is qualitative and non-specific. Physicians measure a patient's vital signs and wait for results from blood culture that may take up to five days for results. This process takes much longer than desired which leaves a huge gap in providing timely treatment at the onset of infection. 

There are several promising biomarkers for sepsis based on the body's inflammatory response. “The proposed point-of-care microfluidic device will for the first time combine the analysis of cell-surface proteins and plasma-proteins biomarkers from the same sample of blood,” said Valera. 

Specifically, this lab-on-a-chip device will provide a complete white blood cell count and quantification of CD64 expressions on neutrophile (nCD64), procalcitonin (PCT), C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and Interleukin 6(IL-6), and use of machine learning approaches to integrate clinical data with measurements from these devices. Because there are currently no tools in existence with this capability, this proposed approach could transform how sepsis is currently diagnosed by making it possible to monitor a patient's inflammatory status in real-time with a bedside test. 

Valera said, “such a device can contribute not only to the early diagnosis of sepsis, but also to lead to accurate fingerprinting of sepsis which will allow stratification of the risks caused by the disease.”

The device and the approach will be tested with clinical samples at the Stephens Family Clinical Research Institute at the Mills Breast Cancer Institute, located on the main Carle campus in Urbana, Illinois. Research collaborator Dr. Karen White has extensive experience in the categorization of sepsis and will lead clinical studies with this device.