Each year in Canada about 100,000 people develop sepsis—a severe illness caused by the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream. The condition causes blood pressure to drop, resulting in shock and may lead to multiple organ dysfunction and eventually death. With a mortality rate of 30 and 65 per cent respectively, sepsis and septic shock cause more deaths annually than heart attacks. Inflammation and immune response to infection varies greatly between patients. Some inflammation is a normal defense against infection. However, if inflammation is excessive, white blood cells and other cells can spill into the circulatory system and damage healthy organs. Continuing her previous MSFHR-funded research, Ainsley Sutherland is studying whether the genes that recognize bacteria and viruses play a role in determining which patients will develop the excessive inflammation that can lead to sepsis. This understanding could lead to the development of drug therapies for patients at higher risk of sepsis, and the avoidance of unnecessary drug side effects in patients who are not at risk.