Sepsis is a life-threatening syndrome resulting in shock and organ dysfunction stemming from a microbial infection. Sepsis has a mortality of 40% and is implicated in half of all in-hospital deaths. The host immune response to microbial infection is critical, with early-phase sepsis characterized by a hyperinflammatory immune response, whereas the later phase of sepsis is often complicated by suppression. Sepsis has no treatment, and management remains supportive.
Stem cells constitute exciting potential therapeutic agents for sepsis. In this review, we examine the rationale for stem cells in sepsis, focusing on mesenchymal stem/stromal cells, which currently demonstrate the greatest therapeutic promise. We examine the preclinical evidence base and evaluate potential mechanisms of action of these cells that are important in the setting of sepsis. We discuss early-phase clinical trials and critically appraise translational barriers to the use of mesenchymal stem/stromal cells in patients with sepsis.