Feinstein Institute researcher awarded $1.65M to examine vagus nerve’s role in sepsis

MANHASSET, NY – Feinstein Institute for Medical Research Professor Valentin A. Pavlov, PhD, received a five-year, $1.65 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine the vagus nerve’s role in the inflammation and metabolism associated with sepsis. Having a better understanding of the nervous system’s signaling during sepsis could lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets within the scope of bioelectronic medicine.

Sepsis is a body-wide immune system reaction to an infection that is responsible for more than 300,000 deaths in the United States each year and leaves many survivors profoundly disabled. Deregulated immune function is recognized as an important component of sepsis; however, we need to understand more about the mechanisms involved to fully understand how dysregulation occurs to design therapeutic approaches.

Previous research conducted by Dr. Pavlov and Feinstein Institute President and CEO Kevin J. Tracey, MD, found that the brain and the vagus nerve are involved in controlling immune responses and inflammation – this discovery has been called the inflammatory reflex. In this new study, Dr. Pavlov will examine the role of the vagus nerve originating in the brainstem in the regulation of immune responses and metabolism during sepsis.

“While we have uncovered that the nervous system, specifically the vagus nerve, regulates inflammation in the body, we do not know the exact neural signaling taking place during sepsis,” said Dr. Pavlov. “With this support from the NIH, we aim to better understand the communication between the vagus nerve and the body’s immune and metabolic responses during sepsis – this should help us identify new therapeutic targets. And this could lead to new medications or bioelectronic medicine therapies for sepsis and its long-reaching sequelae.”

Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field of medicine, which combines neuroscience, molecular biology and bioengineering to tap into the nervous system to treat disease and injury without the use of pharmaceuticals. Dr. Pavlov’s team plans to map the neural signals coming from the brainstem through the vagus nerve to the body’s organs during sepsis.

Identifying ways to combat sepsis has been identified as a major research priority by both the Feinstein Institute and Northwell Health. To help shorten the diagnosis time – a key element to preventing loss of life – Northwell Health’s Sepsis Task Force, headed by Martin Doerfler, MD, senior vice president of clinical strategy and development at Northwell and its associate chief medical officer, along with researchers at the Feinstein Institute, reviewed previous cases to identify the key signs for sepsis. Through this work, they identified a protocol, which includes early administration of fluids and antibiotics, to implement across Northwell Health’s 23 hospitals. As a result, sepsis-related mortalities at those facilities have been reduced by almost 70 percent.

“Dr. Pavlov is taking a new and creative approach to researching the role of the nervous system in sepsis,” said Dr. Tracey. “The results should give new insights to benefit future patients with sepsis.”

About the Feinstein Institute

The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York. Home to 50 research laboratories and to clinical research throughout dozens of hospitals and outpatient facilities, the Feinstein Institute includes 4,000 researchers and staff who are making breakthroughs in molecular medicine, genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we empower imagination and pioneer discovery, visit FeinsteinInstitute.org.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Heather E. Ball Mayer
516-465-7917
hball@northwell.edu