[Dr. Saif Ahmad has found a new and faster way to detect sepsis - a
blood infection - in people who have had bone marrow transplants.
The Ottawa Citizen
published following article in its August 19 issue.
Dr. Saif Ahmad is the son of former professor of AMU, Mrs. Shaad
Sohail Ahmed, Professor of Microbiology at J. N. Medical College. He passed his BSc Engg. (electrical) in 1996 from AMU after
completing his +2 in 91/92. Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)
fraternity is congratulating Dr. Saif for his great achievement.]
Saif Ahmad earned his PhD in computer science by analysing
patterns in financial markets, looking for signals that would help
big investors make millions.
Then his career took a sudden turn. He
still analyses signals coming from huge amounts of data, but now
they come from another unpredictable source — the human body.
If you ever need a bone marrow
transplant, you may have cause to be grateful he didn’t stick with
Ahmad and thoracic surgeon Dr. Andrew
Seely of The Ottawa Hospital have found that ordinary heart monitors
can reveal the onset of sepsis, a blood infection that can be
Though their work is still
preliminary, the method can often detect the onset of sepsis earlier
than the usual method of checking a patient’s temperature.
Their study is published online this
week in a journal of the Public Library of Science, called PLoS One.
A healthy heart doesn’t beat at a
steady rate, Ahmad explains. You have one heartbeat, then another a
second later, the next one 8⁄10 of a second after that, then maybe
6⁄10, and so on. A musician would call it a syncopated beat.
That may sound unstable, but it’s not
“Variability is good,” Ahmad notes.
But when sepsis sets in, these long
and short intervals begin to even out into a heartbeat that ticks
like a clock, steady and regular.
On average, their study of 17 patients
found this signals the start of sepsis 35 hours — almost a day and a
half — earlier than traditional methods, though it varied from
patient to patient.
Sepsis “is life-threatening. The
earlier you detect it and get aggressive antibiotic therapy, that’s
the only way to deal with it at the moment,” Ahmad said.
(The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention says sepsis is the 10th most common cause of death in
the U.S., and the second-highest cause of death in intensive care
It was Seely who picked sepsis as a
research topic. It’s a constant threat among surgical patients, and
the two men decided to focus on patients receiving bone-marrow
transplants as cancer therapy.
“That puts their whole physiological
system at a compromise,” Ahmad says. “The white blood cell count
goes pretty low,” which reduces their ability to fight infection.
The patients are sent home and told to
watch their temperatures. If they start to rise, that’s taken as a
sign of possible sepsis.
But in this study, they were also
given Holter monitors — a heart monitor for outpatients that clips
on a belt, with wires taped to the patient’s torso. It records 24 or
48 hours of heart activity at a time.
Ahmad went to work on these records,
monitoring each patient for an average of 12 days, “looking for
patterns using sophisticated techniques from complex systems science
and statistical physics and computer science.
“The challenge is that this data
doesn’t follow any well-known principles,” he said. “It has certain
patterns which are irregular, so the technique has to be robust to
pick up the subtle changes from the data.”
His analysis worked. He found that
before other signs of sepsis appeared, the heart rates stopped
jumping around “and became very monotonous and featureless.”
“We can get the data, analyse it, and
show meaningful drops” in the heartbeat variations, he said. “It’s a
promising technique. We have shown that it works and we’re hoping to
bring it into practice someday.”
A bonus is that all this works with
ordinary heart monitors that hospitals have used for years.
Seely says studies show the risk of
death from sepsis increases by about seven per cent for each hour
that the start of treatment is delayed. And he said current methods
of detecting sepsis are “incredibly crude,” since they don’t work
until the temperature of the patient’s entire body is rising.
While the new method isn’t meant to be
the only tool for diagnosing sepsis, “we feel it may raise the alarm
earlier,” he said.
Seely has founded a spinoff company,
Therapeutic Monitoring Systems, to commercialize the process.
Ahmad now studies blood pressure
monitoring at the University of Ottawa’s School of Information
Technology and Engineering.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
(Courtesy: The Ottawa