University of Illinois, Carle and OSF HealthCare attack overwhelming infection using engineering-based medicine


The Resilience Engineering in Sepsis Care program will create new tools in point-of-care diagnostics, precision medicine, data analytics, and medical simulation.

Researchers from throughout central Illinois are building the Resilience Engineering in Sepsis Care initiative. This “sepsis think tank” will work to improve care for people worldwide in critical care settings. The partnership will focus on new engineering-based diagnostic and treatment techniques. It includes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its Health Care Engineering Systems Center, Urbana-based Carle Health System, Peoria-based OSF HealthCare via Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center and the UI College of Medicine in Peoria.

“Sepsis treatment costs more than $20 billion per year in the United States alone,” said Dr. Richard Berlin, a trauma surgeon with Carle Health System who has worked for several years on data analytics for sepsis care with Illinois’ engineering faculty. “Identifying patterns of disease when sepsis overwhelms a patient’s immune system will help us save lives and reduce costs for patients across the nation.”

Sepsis occurs when the immune system runs rampant while fighting an infection and attacks vital tissue and organs. In developing countries, sepsis accounts for about 60 percent of all deaths, according to the World Sepsis Day organization.

“Sepsis is an insidious and pervasive clinical challenge. Medical simulation, precision medicine and point-of-care diagnostics can change that. We’re going to make sure that they do,” said Dr. John Vozenilek, who is Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Simulation for Jump Trading Simulation and Education Center.

For example, since 2011, Dr. Berlin and Dr. Karen White of Carle Health System have worked with Illinois computer science professor Lui Sha to analyze and visualize medical data in order to reduce how frequently sepsis occurs in hospitals’ intensive care units.

Berlin and White—along with Carle’s Dr. Ben Davis and faculty from the University of Illinois—are currently conducting a pair of sepsis-related studies. Illinois bioengineering professor Rashid Bashir, Illinois chemistry professor Ryan Bailey, and Illinois research scientist Bobby Reddy develop microchip-based, point-of-care diagnostic devices for the detection of cells and proteins.

Using samples from Carle patients, these devices identify biomarkers in patients’ blood to predict the clinical course of sepsis. Michael Welge and Colleen Bushell of the Illinois Applied Research Institute are developing tools for analyzing the data that they produce.

Clinical and simulation impact will be greatly expanded with expertise from OSF HealthCare and Jump, and they will provide new opportunities to bring students into the fold. A team of entrepreneurial undergraduates from Illinois’ bioengineering department mentored by Jump’s Vozenilek is building a Tube Access Point device to prevent IV tubes from tangling and malfunctioning during infection treatment.

“There are great strengths and amazing research projects going on among our partners,” said Bashir, who heads the Department of Bioengineering at Illinois. “It is time to expand those and capitalize on those. This sepsis initiative across Central Illinois will allow us to bring new ideas into our work and to better combine our efforts as we identify new opportunities for funding and collaboration.”

The initiative will grow with the new Carle Illinois College of Medicine. It will be the nation’s first engineering-based medical college and is expected to welcome its first class in 2018.

“The research opportunities in sepsis care are boundless. Having translational partners like OSF HealthCare and Carle Health System—places where we can move from innovative idea to actually caring for patients—are key to taking advantage of them,” said Peter Schiffer, Illinois’ Vice Chancellor for Research.