Nursing home residents might benefit from a new way of diagnosing and treating sepsis made possible by a recent discovery out of the University of British Columbia.

The test, which would look for a gene signature identified by the UBC researchers, could cut the current 24- to 48-hour diagnosis time down to about an hour. This would be cheered by long-term care providers, as prior research has shown that the bloodstream infection is a major cause of resident hospitalizations.

While the diagnostic test itself has not yet been developed, the technology for it exists, study co-author Bob Hancock, Ph.D., told McKnight’s Thursday. One model might be that a long-term care resident would give a blood sample, which then would be tested through technology including mass spectrometry. If the complex gene expression is present, it would indicate that sepsis will develop and organ failure follow, Hancock explained.

Many clinical trials have tried to treat sepsis with anti-inflammatory drugs, but the gene signature that Hancock and his colleagues identified suggests that this is not a smart approach. Rather, their discovery suggests that sepsis is related to a kind of “cellular amnesia” in macrophages, so that they fail to respond to infections. This leads to the inflammatory response, Hancock said. He proposed that one possible treatment for this macrophage issue might be interferon gamma, a cytokine therapy currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for conditions including chronic granulomatous disease.

Complete findings appear in EBioMedicine.