UH Cancer Center studies the role of genetics of colorectal cancer patients with sepsis

December 20, 2022

In the U.S., over eight and a half percent of cancer patients die from sepsis, a life-threatening immune response to an infection, each year. In Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiian cancer patients have a two-fold increased risk of dying from sepsis compared to other ethnicities. University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researchers recently co-authored a study that aimed to determine the role of genetics in the survival of colorectal cancer patients with sepsis. This study was published in Scientific Reports.

This study was conducted by Natalija Glibetic PhD, Yurii Shvetsov PhD, Karolina Peplowska PhD, Brenda Y. Hernandez, PhD, MPH, and Michelle L. Matter, PhD, which found that Native Hawaiian colorectal cancer patients who died from sepsis had an average survival rate of five months as compared to Japanese colorectal cancer patients who had an average survival rate of 117 months. The study also identified key genes involved in sepsis response were expressed differently in Native Hawaiians and Japanese.

Cancer patients are highly susceptible to developing sepsis because of their depressed immune systems from cancer treatments. Due to variations in individual genetic responses to sepsis, developing sepsis-specific therapies are difficult and there are currently no treatment options. This research aids in the identification of ethnic subgroups that may respond differently to treatment options.

“Today there is no method to identify which colorectal cancer patients are highly susceptible to dying from sepsis,” said Matter. “This research is the first to provide insight into the ethnic diversity in gene changes in response to cancer-associated sepsis, which may help identify patients more prone to developing sepsis.”

Findings from this study will lead to the development of personalized approaches to cancer-associated sepsis care and prevention measures, and may help identify and lead to faster treatment of patients with varying risks of dying from sepsis.