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Project Sepsis

23 January 2018

Peter Ghazal

Professor Peter Ghazal FMedSci has been appointed to lead the University’s Project Sepsis – a research collaboration focused on the development of a test to rapidly diagnose sepsis in extremely vulnerable populations such as babies and the very old.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, said: "I am delighted to welcome Professor Ghazal to the University. He is an outstanding researcher in the field of host genomics and will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to Project Sepsis. This is a major opportunity for us to bring together basic science and clinical research to the benefit of patients.”

Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of infection, responsible for 44,000 deaths every year in the UK. It can develop from a number of bacterial infections so quick identification of the exact pathogen responsible remains a challenge, especially in babies where signs of infection such as a high temperature may not occur. If sepsis goes undetected, and untreated with the right antibiotics, catastrophic loss of life can occur within hours.

Currently the most reliable way to diagnose the infection is by detecting the bacteria in the blood, but this requires a relatively large volume of blood.

The Project Sepsis researchers will use innovative computer-assisted techniques to decode signals generated from patients’ DNA and metabolism. These signals can tell doctors whether or not a bacterial infection is present in the bloodstream, and could help develop a more sensitive, rapid and accurate test that only requires a single drop of blood.

Professor Ghazal explained: “Just as a Twitter user can send a 140 character message, so our genomes produce short messages or signals which communicate with the immune and metabolic systems so that it can fight the infection.”

Prof Ghazal’s research has identified a 52-character DNA ‘tweet’ or message that is specific for bacterial but not viral infection.

The project sepsis team will also promote interaction between patients, researchers, and clinical staff through a newly established Sepsis Patient and Public Engagement Centre (SPPEC), physically located in the Sir Geraint Evans Building, acting as an interaction and training hub. It will have featured displays and simulation wards of neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), paediatric intensive care unit (PICU), adult intensive care unit (ICU), and laboratory bench equipment with audio-visual media.

Professor Ghazal’s appointment is through the Welsh Government's EU funded Sêr Cymru programme – an initiative to attract and support world-class scientific researchers and their teams to Wales.  He joins the School of Medicine from the University of Edinburgh where he was Professor of Molecular Genetics and Biomedicine, former Head of the Division of Pathway Medicine and Associate Director of Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology. He is also fellow of the UK leading medical academy - The Academy of Medical Sciences.

With research interests aimed towards understanding how host-gene networks control infection, Professor Ghazal’s recent studies have pioneered the field of host genomics of early-life infection and the connections between the immune system and lipid metabolism.

Professor Ghazal added: “With its strength in systems immunity and cross-disciplinary research, Cardiff University provides the perfect environment to join up science and clinical medicine to tackle sepsis.

“Indeed, I believe the future of science is becoming so cross-disciplinary that many fields are no longer single disciplines, the single discipline approach established over 200 years ago through societies and academia is really no longer fit for purpose. Project sepsis aims to solve an intractable medical challenge through developing a team science approach for improving the outcome of critically ill individuals. Notably, this behavioural change in how we do science and directly connect to medicine has a further benefit of stimulating innovation and enterprise.”

Sêr Cymru is a scheme aimed at expanding Wales’ research capacity by attracting and developing talented researchers in Wales. The scheme is backed by the European Regional Development Fund.

A reception and inaugural lecture for Professor Ghazal will take place at 16:00, 24 January at the Heath Park Campus. Details of the event can be found on Eventbrite.

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