Embracing complexity in sepsis

Link to article at PubMed

Crit Care. 2023 Mar 11;27(1):102. doi: 10.1186/s13054-023-04374-0.


Sepsis involves the dynamic interplay between a pathogen, the host response, the failure of organ systems, medical interventions and a myriad of other factors. This together results in a complex, dynamic and dysregulated state that has remained ungovernable thus far. While it is generally accepted that sepsis is very complex indeed, the concepts, approaches and methods that are necessary to understand this complexity remain underappreciated. In this perspective we view sepsis through the lens of complexity theory. We describe the concepts that support viewing sepsis as a state of a highly complex, non-linear and spatio-dynamic system. We argue that methods from the field of complex systems are pivotal for a fuller understanding of sepsis, and we highlight the progress that has been made over the last decades in this respect. Still, despite these considerable advancements, methods like computational modelling and network-based analyses continue to fly under the general scientific radar. We discuss what barriers contribute to this disconnect, and what we can do to embrace complexity with regards to measurements, research approaches and clinical applications. Specifically, we advocate a focus on longitudinal, more continuous biological data collection in sepsis. Understanding the complexity of sepsis will require a huge multidisciplinary effort, in which computational approaches derived from complex systems science must be supported by, and integrated with, biological data. Such integration could finetune computational models, guide validation experiments, and identify key pathways that could be targeted to modulate the system to the benefit of the host. We offer an example for immunological predictive modelling, which may inform agile trials that could be adjusted throughout the trajectory of disease. Overall, we argue that we should expand our current mental frameworks of sepsis, and embrace nonlinear, system-based thinking in order to move the field forward.

PMID:36906606 | PMC:PMC10007743 | DOI:10.1186/s13054-023-04374-0

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