Sunday 26 January 2020

Finglas docs speeding up sepsis diagnosis with new technology

Dr. Kellie Adamson and Dr. Elaine Spain in the National Centre for Sensor Research in DCU
Dr. Kellie Adamson and Dr. Elaine Spain in the National Centre for Sensor Research in DCU

A team of Finglas doctors has developed a revolutionary medical device which can massively speed up the diagnosis of sepsis and save people from the illness which can kill in hours.

Patients currently suspected of having sepsis have to undergo a blood analysis which can take days to complete, and while they are waiting for a result they are put on a broad-spectrum antibiotic.

But the simple SepTec screening tool can be used at the patient's bedside to diagnose sepsis in only 15 minutes from a blood sample and lead to the use of a very specific medication.

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by the body's response to an infection. Any infection can progress to sepsis. It claims more lives than heart attacks, breast cancer or lung cancer, and can kill a healthy person within 12 hours.


Elderly people, pregnant women and children are particularly at risk, and diagnosis time is critical because for every hour delay in diagnosis there is an estimated 8pc decrease in the chances of survival.

Dr Elaine Spain (35) and Dr Kellie Adamson (32) are co-founders of SepTec, a project based in the National Centre for Sensor Research on the DCU Glasnevin campus, since 2014.

"We met when we were doing our PhDs. I'm from east Finglas and Kellie from west Finglas," said Dr Spain.

"We are further developing the SepTec device and, if all goes well and it goes through its clinical trials, it could be out there in hospitals in three or four years."

The links between Finglas and sepsis treatment are uncanny, according to Elaine.

In January 2018, Karen and Joe Hughes lost their 15-year-old son Sean to sepsis, and have campaigned to raise awareness of the killer illness ever since.

‘Lil Red’ Sean Hughes
‘Lil Red’ Sean Hughes

"Through his own research Joe got to hear about us developing our device and got in touch. We were glad to explain the SepTec device to him and then we discovered Joe's sister used to babysit me when I was a child," said Elaine.

"Then when Karen and Joe did some fundraising they wanted to donate money to our research. It was incredible for two parents who are funding their own campaign to do that. It showed the faith they have in us. Tears were shed when they gave us a cheque for €16,500 in September."

Elaine also has an extra drive to bring the device to fruition.

"My own grandmother died of sepsis. I never got to say goodbye to her. Five days after she went to hospital the doctors told us she had MRSA and there was nothing they could do," she said.

"I remember being so angry and thinking why did it take so long for them to find out what was wrong."

The SepTec team is now seeking €5-6m seed funding to take the device to clinical trial, full manufacturing, regulatory approval and then market launch.

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