Stories about: Ofer Levy

Modeling sepsis in newborns: toward better detection and treatment

Sepsis, a serious, hard-to-diagnose threat in the NICU, can interfere with a baby’s development even when cleared with antibiotics. (Image: Army Medicine/Flickr)

Sepsis, or bacterial infection of the bloodstream, is a grave threat to premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) who have catheters and intravenous lines. Even when antibiotics clear the infection itself, the inflammation that it causes can do just as much damage. Not only can sepsis and the resulting inflammation interfere with fragile preemies’ ability to gain weight, but a growing literature suggests that they can impair brain development.

Preventive measures can now avoid many cases of sepsis, but those that slip through can be hard to detect in newborns.

“Newborns can’t speak, and they have unique immune systems, so they tend not to have fevers or show clinical signs,” explains Ofer Levy, MD, PhD, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There may be irregular breathing or increased heart rate, or the baby may be acting a little ‘off,’ but these signs are pretty nonspecific. There’s a tremendous need for better diagnostics in this field.”

Levy and colleagues recently described a mouse model that, for the first time, captures the effects of sepsis on the newborn immune system. They and others have begun using it to identify diagnostic markers and better treatments.

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Radiation sickness: A two-drug combination could block radiation’s double hit

A two-drug combination could help raise the odds of surviving toxic doses of radiation released through accidents like those at Chernobyl (above) or Fukushima, or by a nuclear or radiological weapon. (Kamil Porembinski/Flickr)

Radiation can have its benefits – look at radiation therapy for cancer, or imaging technologies like X-rays and CT scans that use radiation to peer within our bodies. But high doses, from malfunctioning medical equipment, accidents like those at Chernobyl or Fukushima, or nuclear or radiological weapons, can be toxic or even lethal.

Right now, there are treatments in development that could raise the odds of surviving exposure to toxic doses of radiation, but only if given within a few minutes or hours of exposure. Ofer Levy of Children’s Division of Infectious Diseases and his collaborator Eva Guinan at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have hit upon a new-two drug combination that markedly increased survival in mice when given as late as 24 hours after exposure.

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A distant star: a single vaccine at birth

Ofer Levy is nothing if not passionate. Talking about his new project, he starts taking notes on my pad for me, to make sure I catch every detail. When Levy was getting his MD/PhD at NYU, one of his mentors told him, “In pursuing your life’s passion as a researcher, you should set your sights on a distant star.”

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