Immunotherapy in the critically ill is an appealing notion because of the apparent abnormal immune and inflammatory responses seen in so many patients. The administration of a medication that could alter immune responses and decrease mortality in patients with sepsis could represent a 'magic bullet'. Various approaches have been tried over the last 20 yr: steroids; anti-endotoxin or anti-cytokine antibodies; cytokine receptor antagonists; and other agents with immune-modulating side-effects. However, in some respects, research along these lines has been unsuccessful or disappointing at best. The current state of knowledge is summarized with particular reference to sepsis and the acute respiratory distress syndrome.
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