A revolutionary new drug to combat blood poisoning and organ damage could be life saving, scientists say.
Sepsis is one of the most frequent cause of death in hospitalised patients.
It claims 37,000 lives in the UK every year and costs the NHS around £2.5 billion annually.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have developed a novel anti-inflammatory drug which could be trialled in patients in as little as two years.
Professor Danny McAuley said: "This is an exciting development and an excellent example of the potentially life-changing and life-saving impact of Queen’s research."
There is no effective treatment for sepsis or its complication, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), Professor McAuley said.
There may be up to 45,000 cases of ARDS each year in the UK and Ireland, and up to 22,000 deaths.
The Queen’s expert added: "There is a huge clinical need for a drug to fight the inflammation caused by sepsis and ARDS that causes so much damage to the body.
"Through this research, we are well on our way to developing that drug and, with the right funding and strategic partnerships, we could see it being trialled in patients in as little as two or three years."
Sepsis arises when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation.
This inflammation can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which inhibits blood supply to vital organs and can lead to multiple organ failure.
Up to a quarter of patients with severe sepsis will develop ARDS, where the lungs cannot provide enough oxygen for the rest of the body, and up to half of these patients will die, researchers said.
Professor Chris Scott from Queen’s School of Pharmacy added: "What we have developed is an anti-inflammatory nanoparticle, a microscopic particle that binds itself to cells called macrophages, which are often found at the site of an infection.
"We have found that this nanoparticle essentially blocks inflammation and interrupts the chain of reactions that lead to severe sepsis and ARDS."