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Novel DNA-based method revolutionises sepsis diagnosis

Researchers from Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB and partners have developed a groundbreaking approach to identify pathogens in sepsis patients, potentially reducing mortality rates and improving treatment outcomes. The team has been awarded the 2024 Stifterverband Science Prize for their innovative work.

Overcoming limitations of traditional methods

Current sepsis diagnosis typically relies on mass spectrometry following blood culture, a process hindered by low pathogen concentrations and time constraints. The new method, inspired  by forensic techniques, analyses genetic traces left by pathogens in the blood, circumventing these limitations.

The process involves:
1. Isolation of DNA fragments from blood samples
2. High-throughput sequencing of up to 30 million fragments
3. Bioinformatic analysis comparing non-human DNA to a
specialised pathogen genome database

Clinical efficacy

Multiple studies have demonstrated the method’s superiority over traditional techniques, with pathogen identification rates reaching 70% in studied patients. Dr Philip Stevens, CEO of Noscendo GmbH, reported: “Our diagnostic method has helped over 6,000 patients in the past four years alone. Patients are able to leave the hospital much faster and have fewer long-term effects.” The new approach significantly reduces time-to-result compared to blood cultures. Dr Silke Grumaz, Chief Scientific Officer at Noscendo, said: “We generally get results within 24 hours after the blood sample arrives at our lab. If a hospital doesn’t use the method itself, the logistics can take another 12 hours. In most cases, that’s still faster than any blood culture can deliver results.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration

The method’s development resulted from more than a decade of collaboration between Fraunhofer IGB, clinical networks, and biotech company Noscendo. This partnership facilitated the translation of research into clinical practice, with Noscendo providing a channel for hospitals to access the technology.

Future directions

The research team is now exploring applications in paediatric intensive care, where limited blood volume poses additional diagnostic challenges. They are also investigating the method’s potential for diagnosing localised infections and its applicability to other bodily fluids and tissue samples.

Scherm­afbeelding 2024 07 02 om 08.57.03

From top left to bottom right:
Dr Kai Sohn (Fraunhofer IGB), Dr Silke Grumaz and Dr Philip Stevens (both from Noscendo GmbH), and Prof. Thorsten Brenner (University Hospital Essen) © Fraunhofer / Piotr Banczerowski