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article imagePhage therapy aids man with multidrug-resistant infection

By Tim Sandle     May 1, 2017 in Science
A novel application of bacteriophage therapy has saved the life of a man who contracted a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection. Phage therapy offers a promising new take on the fight against antibacterial resistance.
As Digital Journal has regularly featured, humanity faces a difficult future as medicine drift towards a world where the antibiotics and antimicrobials that have served hospitals well since the 1940s become increasingly redundant (strictly speaking, the word “antibiotic” refers to substances produced by microorganisms that act against another microorganism; antimicrobial is a wider term, embracing a wider range of bacterial killing chemicals). This has arisen due to certain pathogenic bacteria becoming resistant not only to the primary antimicrobial commonly used against them, but against several antimicrobials (hence the term "multi-drug resistant"). There are varied reasons for this, including the misapplication of antibiotics (doctors giving out too many pills over the years, including for viral infections which cannot be treated by medications designed to kill bacteria); the addition of antibiotics to animal feed with the aim of creating leaner meat (which led to antimicrobial run-offs entering the general environment); and the failure of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in new generations of antimicrobials.
This is why some scientists are putting their faith in phage therapy. The use of a type of viruses called bacteriophages to fight off bacterial infections is not new. Considerable research was undertaken in the Soviet Union, for example. Much research was later abandoned because of the success of 'wonder pills' in the shape of antibiotics (why spend decades on viral research when antiobiotics can be made so easily?) In a world where antibiotics and antimicrobials are in increasingly short-supply, interest in phages has been reignited.
A bacteriophage is a virus that infects and replicates within a bacterium. There's a clue in the literal translation of the name, which is derived from "bacteria" and the Greek word "to devour." Researchers in the 1930s discovered that bacteriophages are found wherever bacteria thrive: in sewers, in rivers that catch waste runoff from pipes, and in the stools of convalescent patients. This led to screening of phages and their application in fighting bacterial infections.
Showing how a modern take on bacteriophages (or simply 'phages') can be effective, scientists working at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, successfully used an experimental therapy involving bacteriophages to treat a patient, called Tom Patterson, who was near death from a multidrug-resistant bacterium.
Patterson was infected with a multidrug-resistant strain of Acinetobacter baumannii; this organism is an opportunistic and often deadly pathogen. The use of antimicrobials to treat Patterson had proved ineffective. To treat the patient, a cocktaqil of four phages were used. Unusually these were introduced through catheters into his abdominal cavity and intravenously. This method had not ben performed for over seventy years.
The success of the experimental therapy was recently outlined at a meeting of the Centennial Celebration of Bacteriophage Research, which took place at the Institute Pasteur in Paris. The lecture was delivered by the scientist responsible for the success of the therapy, Dr. Biswajit Biswas. The trial could lead to further applications of phage therapy.
More about phage therapy, Bacteria, antimicrobials, Infection
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