Academics at the University of Sheffield teamed up with colleagues in the US for research which uncovered the reasons why children are more resilient that adults to many life-threatening infections.
They found differences in the behaviour cells in the blood of children and adults which could be used to develop drugs and preventative treatments to fight sepsis.
The study, published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology Molecular Systems Biology, was carried out by a team of scientists from Sheffield and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Winston Hide, Professor of Computational Biology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Children are naturally more resistant to lots of infectious diseases.
“During outbreaks like Spanish flu and Ebola we know that children survived much better than adults.
“By analysing the blood profiles of infected children and comparing them to adults with sepsis we were able to identify children whose natural resilience helped them to ward off infection.
“By using the lessons we have learnt from the immune systems of children, scientists can now unlock how to control the disease and prevent it from occurring as opposed to trying to fight the disease once it has manifested itself.”
Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a potentially deadly reaction to an infection which causes the body to attack its own organs and tissue.
It affects more than 20 million people worldwide and is responsible for more deaths in the UK than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.
Sepsis is often referred to as the hidden killer because symptoms can initially present themselves as flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection.