Kristy Heilenday Illustrations

As many as 6 million people die each year from sepsis, a runaway immune system response to infection. In the U.S., it’s responsible for nearly 270,000 deaths, including one in three patients who die in a hospital, and it costs nearly $30 billion annually to treat. Recently, researchers in UVA’s Department of Neuroscience published research showing the possibility that the antidepressant fluvoxamine, typically used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, could offer a new treatment for fighting sepsis. Dorian Rosen, a Ph.D. student in the lab of assistant professor Alban Gaultier, was lead author on the study published in Science Translational Medicine in February. Interested in the potential of repurposing existing drugs for new applications, Rosen knew that fluvoxamine influences a protein in human cells that affects inflammation. Testing the medication in mice, the research team found that it indeed appeared to have a protective effect, reducing death from septic shock and dampening the inflammatory response. Although the research would need to be pursued in larger studies, it holds the promise of a potential new approach.