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31st March 2023 Intensive Care

Major funding boost for world-first sepsis study

Mark Plummer ICU

A world-leading trial showing revolutionary results in the use of a salt formulation of vitamin C to treat sepsis, will now expand across Australia thanks to a major boost to funding.

The Federal Government is investing $4.9 million as part of a Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) grant to support the introduction of a series of national trials that will recruit patients with sepsis at additional sites over five years.

Sepsis occurs due to an exaggerated response to an infection whereby an overactive immune system damages the body’s own tissues and organs. This can lead to shock, multi-organ failure, or death, particularly when it is not recognised and treated quickly.

Sepsis is responsible for one in every five deaths globally while also contributing to up to half of all deaths in hospital.

The condition can affect people of all ages and patients across a broad range of clinical specialties but is particularly prevalent in neonates, older people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Currently, patients with sepsis are treated with medications such as antibiotics, however, this care, particularly if it is not provided immediately, is not always effective.

This clinical trial, led by the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN) in partnership with the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute, aims to examine whether a megadose of a derivative of vitamin C called sodium ascorbate can reduce the rate of deaths for patients admitted to the Intensive Care Unit with sepsis.

The first human trials are ongoing at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Monash Medical Centre with $390,000 in funding from The Hospital Research Foundation Group.

As part of the trial, participants with sepsis are randomly assigned to three treatment arms with patients in the mega-dose sodium ascorbate arm receiving an intravenous dose of 270 grams over 48 hours which is equivalent to around 5,000 oranges or 500 vitamin C tablets.

The funding from the MRFF will also fund further studies in partnership with the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Doherty Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

Leading the research is Associate Professor Mark Plummer, RAH Head of Research and Innovation for the Intensive Care Unit and University of Adelaide researcher.

Mark Plummer speaking

“An estimated 18,000 Australian adults are treated in ICUs for sepsis each year and around 5,000 of these people die, with those that do survive often suffering long-term physical, cognitive and psychological dysfunction,” A/Prof Plummer said.

“These rates are alarming and highlight the importance of developing new treatments for this life-threatening condition.

“Using vitamin C to treat sepsis has had mixed results in previous studies however we believe a megadose of the vitamin C derivative, sodium ascorbate, may be the key to creating an effective treatment.

“Our research is exciting as it has the potential to change the way sepsis is managed worldwide so we are delighted to be able to expand this trial and examine this treatment further.”

The Hospital Research Foundation Group CEO, Paul Flynn, was proud to see the next stage of this exciting research come to fruition.

“The Hospital Research Foundation Group was very happy to seed fund this trial of Vitamin C mega doses for the management of septic shock,” Mr Flynn said.

“When we were first approached with this research, it was difficult to comprehend that it had never been investigated before. And when Associate Professor Plummer explained the potential impact globally, we went ‘all in’ with a large early-stage grant.

“The early results have been remarkable and we commend the MRFF for continuing to support the team’s game-changing work, which has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives and have a sustained impact on the health and wellbeing of people across the world.”