Protein patterns – a new tool for studying sepsis

“We use the blood as a mirror reflecting what happens in the body”, says Johan Malmström. He is a biomedical scientist, while his fellow researcher Erik, lead author of the recently released article, is a medical intern. Both are affiliated with Lund University. The third brother Lars works in bioinformatics at the University of Zurich. The team has been able to map the majority of all proteins that can be found in vital organs such as the heart, lung, liver, spleen and blood vessels, and listed which proteins are specific to each specific organ.

“If you see in a blood sample that the amount of proteins from a specific organ increases, it indicates damage to this organ. The method provides an understanding of the molecular events that take place during the course of a disease, and the possibility, using the same analysis, to study how different organs are affected”, explains Erik Malmström.

Sepsis (formerly called blood poisoning) is caused by a bacterial infection, and is a condition in which the immune system starts to react erroneously in different ways. However, it is often difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms of sepsis – including high breathing rate, fever, rapid pulse, pain and confusion – occur in milder conditions as well. Also, the progression of the disease can be very fast, and become fatal in just a few hours. Therefore, there is a great need for faster diagnosis and better understanding of the course of the disease.

Another researcher at Lund University, Adam Linder, has begun to develop a diagnostic method based on the protein HBP. This protein is emitted from the white blood cells and reflects the risk of hypotension.

The Malmström group’s study of hundreds of different proteins could eventually be used to select other important proteins that can serve as biomarkers for different aspects of sepsis. First and foremost, however, the method is an important research tool.

“There is so much we don’t know about sepsis. Why do not all patients react the same way – why do some organs suffer the most damage in some patients and not in others? Do different bacteria cause the disease to progress? Can you divide patients into different subgroups, or bacteria, or does each new combination of patients and bacteria lead to a specific form of sepsis?” asks Erik Malmström.

The researchers have conducted their studies on animals, but are now moving on to human tissue. Through a collaboration with surgeons at Skåne University Hospital they have obtained samples of healthy tissue from all organs concerned. Protein patterns of these samples can then be compared with the corresponding tissue in sepsis patients.

“Protein mapping like this has never been done before. The method can also be applied to other diseases for studying how pathological changes in various organs are reflected in a blood sample”, says Johan Malmström.


Download study: Malmström, E., Kilsgård, O., Hauri, S., Smeds, E., Herwald, H., Malmström L., and Malmström, J (2016). Large-scale inference of protein tissue origin in gram-positive sepsis plasma using quantitative targeted proteomics. Nature Communications

For more information, contact:

Erik Malmström, Researcher at Division of Infection Medicine (BMC), Lund University
Tel: +46 (0)73 243 14 16
Email: [email protected]

Johan Malmström, Biomedical scientist, Lund University
Tel: +46 (0)46 222 08 30 or +46 (0)76 89 98 232
Email: [email protected]

Lund University was founded in 1666 and is ranked as one of the top 100 universities in the world. With high-quality education and research at eight faculties, we are one of the most comprehensive universities in Scandinavia. The University has 47000 students and 7000 staff based in Lund, Helsingborg and Malmö. Lund is often considered to be Sweden’s most attractive study destination and huge investments are currently being made in the new research facilities MAX IV and ESS in the city.