Genes Could Help Predict Trauma Outcome

Release Date:
Karin Jegalian

Each year, doctors treat millions of trauma victims without being able to predict how each person is likely to fare. Even people with nearly identical injuries can have dramatically different outcomes, with some inexplicably developing life-threatening complications like multiple organ failure or body-wide inflammation.

Thanks to an NIGMS "glue grant" that brought clinicians and basic researchers together to attack this problem, doctors are one step closer to knowing how best to treat trauma patients. A multidisciplinary group of scientists led by trauma surgeon J. Perren Cobb, M.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, scanned genetic material from trauma patients and healthy volunteers. The researchers were looking for differences in gene activity that might be associated with the most deadly effects of severe trauma. They found that, compared to healthy people, the trauma patients' white blood cells showed dramatic differences in the activity of certain genes. Because white blood cells are involved in inflammation, these results shed light on inflammation's role in injury response.

This study is one of the first to standardize "gene chip" experiments across several medical centers and show that such a genetic test can give informative results in a clinical setting. The work is an early, but significant, step toward the researchers' goal of using genetic information to guide trauma treatment.