Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Professor Receives Grant to
Study the Effects of Hypothermia in Patients Suffering from Sepsis
ALBANY, NY. – February 15, 2011 – Alex Steiner, Pharm.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has received a four-year grant from the American Heart Association in the amount of $308,000. He will be researching the effects of naturally occurring hypothermia in patients suffering from severe sepsis.
Sepsis is a dangerous bodily response to infection that has a 40 percent mortality rate, affects five to ten percent of intensive care unit (ICU) patients, and causes more than 200,000 deaths each year.
Yet despite its severity and prevalence, most Americans know little about it. The New York Times cited a study last September in which 3 out of 5 Americans age 18 and older responded that they were not familiar with the term sepsis.
Sepsis can often develop in patients suffering from conditions such as pneumonia, appendicitis, and meningitis. Ninety percent (90%) of patients who become septic develop a fever, which is now understood to be part of the body’s natural response to fighting infection.
Up until the 1970’s, however, it was widely believed that fever represented an additional threat to the health of patients, so clinicians would take steps to bring down the patient’s temperature. Research has since shown that fever can benefit the body’s ability to fight infection.
As a result, physicians today will let a fever run its course in most septic patients, except in extreme cases when the fever approaches a level that threatens brain function. The remaining ten percent (10%) of septic patients – typically those with the most severe cases of sepsis – develop hypothermia instead of fever, whereby their core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The cause and effect of hypothermia in this patient population remains a mystery to physicians and scientists, and it is the focus of Dr. Steiner’s research.
When a septic patient develops hypothermia, the standard practice today is to immediately “warm” the patient due to the prevailing belief that hypothermia represents an even greater threat to the patient’s health than sepsis. Dr. Steiner’s research will challenge this belief by testing the hypothesis that hypothermia may aid the infected host better when sepsis is most severe. In other words, hypothermia might actually offer benefits for severely septic patients similar to way fever aids those with milder forms of sepsis.
Quotes from Dr. Steiner
“We are essentially exploring whether switching from fever to hypothermia may be a strategy employed by the body of a severely septic patient in order to cope with circulatory failure. Based on the initial research, there is reason to believe that hypothermia could offer benefits that preserve body tissues and slow down bacterial growth,” says Dr. Steiner.
“Severely septic patients face a 70% mortality rate. If naturally occurring hypothermia can be shown to help these patients cope with sepsis, it could impact the way they are treated and help increase their chances of survival,” says Dr. Steiner.
About Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
Founded in 1881, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is a private, independent institution committed to the advancement of health. The College possesses all of the qualities for an outstanding education, including diverse academic programs, modern facilities, and distinguished faculty. In addition to its doctor of pharmacy program, ACPHS offers three bachelor’s programs and six graduate programs in the health sciences. The College’s main campus is located in Albany, New York; its satellite campus is in Colchester, Vermont.