KANSAS CITY, KAN. David Morrison spends his days trying to learn more about septic shock.
Septic shock, which Morrison calls a terrible disease, affects the lives of 50,000 to 100,000 Americans annually and carries a 30 percent to 50 percent mortality rate.
"It's a very serious disease for which there is no satisfactory mode of intervention," said Morrison, a Kansas University Medical Center professor of microbiology, molecular genetics and immunology. He also is associate director for basic research programs at the KUMC Cancer Center.
Septic shock occurs when bacteria bully their way into the body and the body overreacts in its effort to fight off the bacteria.
It may afflict people who've developed an infection after a non-sterile surgery, older people or people that Morrison describes as "immuno-compromised."
DURING A RECENT interview in his office at the med center, Morrison talked about septic shock, which has been frustrating medical researchers for years.
"You and I are by design built to respond to invasion by microbes. Sometimes the response is so vigorous that you become in danger of the host response itself an inflammatory response that gets out of hand, that goes crazy, basically," he said.
The response is due to bacterial endotoxins, which Morrison said are the "most potent mediator of this pro-inflammatory response." Endotoxins, contained within a bacterium, are generally harmful to all body tissues and are released when the bacterial cell is broken down or dies and disintegrates.
The endotoxins interact with the white blood cells, which causes the release of cytokines. The cytokines cause fever, weight loss, hypertension and eventually, multi-system organ failure.
"THE CONSEQUENCE, of course, is death," Morrison said.
As other researchers focus on the cytokines, Morrison and his research assistants are interested in the receptor molecule on the white blood cell.
"I'm interested in how these molecules turn on the white cells," said Morrison, who has been involved in septic shock research for 22 years.
Morrison and those working in his lab are "trying to develop antibodies to interact with the receptor so the endotoxins can't do their thing."
Morrison, who has a doctorate from Yale, said septic shock is an intriguing field.
"You always think you're right on the verge of it," he said, admitting he's addicted to research.
Morrison currently has five grants, including a 10-year MERIT Method to Extend Research in Time grant from the National Institutes of Health, which fund his septic shock studies. He also is winner of the 1989 KUMC Senior Investigator Award.