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A new University of Otago study is looking to find whether intravenous infusions of vitamin C could be a life-saving treatment for patients with sepsis.
The study, involving University of Otago researchers in Christchurch, follows two small clinical trials overseas that reported an almost 80% drop in mortality from the life-threatening condition.
The results from using the natural product as a medicine were considered by many to be too good to be true, so the Christchurch project will rigorously test the findings.
Associate Professor Anitra Carr recently started the study in the Christchurch Hospital Intensive Care Unit.
Prof Carr said sepsis is the main cause of death in the ICU. It kills one in five New Zealand ICU patients and although rates are increasing, treatment options are limited.
Sepsis is a life-threatening complication where the body's response to infection actually damages its tissues and organs. If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically and organs fail.
Patients with septic shock are often given drugs to stabilise their cardiovascular function, but Prof Carr is looking to find out whether cardiac dysfunction, and resulting drug treatments, could be avoided if patients had appropriate vitamin C levels.
"Vitamin C is potentially involved in a similar natural process, and if levels were high enough patients might not need as much medication," she said.
The research team will study whether people with sepsis who get the vitamin are more likely to survive and have a better recovery than those who get conventional treatment.
The group of patients who get vitamin C will also get conventional treatments.
The study has received funding from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the Health Research Council.
High-dose infusions of vitamin C have also been used to halt the spread of some forms of cancer.