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Specially coated nanoparticles could treat sepsis

Published online 7 September 2015

Nanoparticles coated with sialic acid could be the next therapeutic tool in the fight against sepsis.

Nadia El-Awady

Scientists in the UK and Ireland, including one linked to the University of Jordan, have developed a new method to target certain receptors in the body called Siglecs that are capable of turning off a damaging part of the inflammatory response in patients with sepsis. 

They coated nanoparticles with sialic acid, a sugar that specifically binds to Siglecs. The nanoparticles delivered more concentrated doses of sialic acid to the receptors than would normally reach them.

The team then used the coated nanoparticles on mouse and human inflammation models that mimic sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome, a common progression of sepsis. They found that the coated nanoparticles blocked the proinflammatory response.

This confirms Siglecs as a therapeutic target, says biochemist Christopher Scott from Queen’s University Belfast, UK. “The new strategy that we have developed to target Siglec is distinctly different from other anti-inflammatory approaches to date, such as steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.” 

The team is now working on scaling up the production of the sialic acid-coated nanoparticles and plan to carry out late preclinical research to prove they are safe for trials in human patients, which they hope will begin within three years, adds Scott.

Sepsis affects 19 million people and kills eight million annually, making it the single most frequent cause of death in hospitalized patients. It has no effective treatment to date; patients can only be provided with supportive therapies. 


Spence, S. et al. Targeting Siglecs with a sialic acid-decorated nanoparticle abrogates inflammation. Sci. Transl. Med. (2015).