Sick African American woman sitting on her couch with tissues

A Revolutionary Diagnostic: Host Response

Explaining the definition of ‘host response’ and how it impacts healthcare.

Imagine looking for a needle in a haystack: You’re looking for one tiny thing, and it could be anywhere in this massive mess. But what if you could know, before you started your search, that there were large chunks of that haystack where the needle definitely wasn’t?

That’s the core idea of ‘host response,’ a novel approach to identifying illnesses in humans that has the potential to upend the typical diagnostic process, saving massive amounts of time, money, and stress.

What is ‘Host Response’?

“Host response” refers to how a body – human or animal, for example – responds to an environmental stressor. This stressor could be an infection, inflammation, radiation, exposure to a toxic chemical, feeling unwell or even having a heart attack. When “under attack” by an external stressor, a healthy immune system kicks in to bring the system back into balance.

A diagnostic approach using the host response technique is not looking for the virus or the illness itself, but is examining how the immune system is responding to the infection. By deciphering the body’s response to a stressor, clinicians can identify the exact category of that stressor, ruling out other potential categories of concern.

“Our bodies have evolved different ways to counteract and fight [various] infections, and we can now determine specifically if it is bacterial, viral, or fungal,” says Jesse vanWestrienen, Biomeme’s biology lead.

How Does This Approach Improve Disease Management?

Our immune system is the gatekeeper of our health, tasked with fighting illness. Researchers have found that the immune system responds differently to various infections. When the immune system “turns on” to fight an infection, this response manifests with a genetic expression profile via messenger RNA (mRNA) that is specific to a particular class of infection.

By measuring those responses and using statistical algorithms generated through machine learning to analyze large data sets, a diagnostic test is developed. This diagnostic testing capability can help primary care physicians determine what class of infection a patient has and help guide them with treatment options.

How Host Response Tackles Antibiotic Resistance

A significant side benefit of this approach is that it has the potential to stem the consistent overprescribing of antibiotics, which in turn has caused the problematic growth of antibiotic resistance.

“The goal is to bring the right therapy to the correct patient at the right time, which is the moniker of Precision Health,” says Dr. Chris Woods, Biomeme’s chief medical officer. “What we’re really trying to do is use how the body responds to these stimuli to create diagnostics that are broader in scope than pathogen-based diagnostics, reduce inappropriate antibiotic use and reduce the pressure causing the antimicrobial resistance pandemic that we are experiencing globally.”

This silent pandemic of antibiotic resistance is decades old and responsible for five million deaths globally and more than 100,000 deaths in the United States every year, Woods says.

In a clinical setting, for example, this means a doctor could test a small sample of a patient’s blood to determine if an illness is viral or bacterial. If bacterial, then the use of antibiotics is an appropriate treatment. If it is a viral infection, then both the doctor and the patient (and a parent or guardian) would be reassured that the infected individual is receiving the most appropriate treatment without antibiotics. Currently, doctors cannot easily determine if an infection is bacterial or viral, resulting in the overuse of antibiotics as a “just in case” approach to an upper respiratory infection, such as the common cold or the flu, both of which are viral illnesses.

Developing a Host Response Capability

One Health Labs is working closely with its parent company Biomeme to develop a Host Response testing capability, leading the way as we seek to improve the health of individuals around the world — and even the health of the planet itself.