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breakthroughs

Sepsis is the number 1 killer of patients in hospitals. A doctor might have just stumbled on the cure.

Sepsis is the number one disease that kills people in hospitals, and there is no known effective cure. But thanks to the quick thinking of Dr. Paul Marik of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, there soon could be, NPR reports.

When a 48-year-old woman suffering from severe sepsis came into his intensive care unit in January 2015, Marik decided to respond by administering intravenous vitamin C, mixed with a low dose of corticosteroids and thiamine, another vitamin. "I was expecting the next morning when I came to work she would be dead," Marik told NPR. "But when I walked in the next morning, I got the shock of my life." The woman was alive, Marik found — and recovering.

Marik has adopted the approach with all of his sepsis patients. He said that of 150 sepsis patients he has treated since the woman in January 2015, only one has died of the disease. The results are especially stunning given of the million Americans who get sepsis every year, 300,000 are expected to die. "That's the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing every single day," Marik told NPR.

But as NPR notes: "This is not the standard way to evaluate a potential new treatment. Ordinarily, the potential treatment would be tested head to head with a placebo or standard treatment, and neither the doctors nor the patients would know who in the study was getting the new therapy." Other doctors have urged expectations to remain tempered: "[A result] can look really exciting when you do it on a group in one hospital with one set of clinicians, and then when you try to validate with a larger group in multiple centers — thus far we've been unsuccessful with anything," said top sepsis researcher Craig Coopersmith.

Marik's treatment is being explored through the traditional trial methods now, and could yield conclusions by the end of the year.