Bacteriophages, or simply phages, are viruses that infect bacteria cells, and what with various infectious bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics physicians are looking to phages to treat these resistant bacteria.
Phage Therapy Treats Patient with Drug-Resistant Bacterial Infection
Scientists have used an experimental therapy that relies on bacteria-infecting viruses collected, in part, through HHMI’s SEA-PHAGES program to fight a Mycobacterium infection in a 15-year-old girl.
The patient, a 15-year-old girl, had come to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for a double lung transplant.
Weeks after the transplant, doctors noticed redness at the site of her surgical wound and signs of infection in her liver. Then, they saw nodules – pockets of bacteria pushing up through the skin – on her arms, legs, and buttocks. The girl’s infection had spread, and traditional antibiotics were no longer working.
Now, a new personalized treatment is helping the girl heal. The treatment relies on genetically engineering bacteriophages, viruses that can infect and kill bacteria. Over the next six months, nearly all of the girl’s skin nodules disappeared, her surgical wound began closing, and her liver function improved, scientists report May 8, 2019, in the journal Nature Medicine.
The work is the first to demonstrate the safe and effective use of engineered bacteriophages in a human patient, says Graham Hatfull, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Such a treatment could offer a personalized approach to countering drug-resistant bacteria. It could even potentially be used more broadly for controlling diseases like tuberculosis.
The idea of phage therapy has been around for nearly a century. But until recently, there wasn’t much data about the treatment’s safety and efficacy. In 2017, doctors in San Diego, California, successfully used phages to treat a patient with a multidrug-resistant bacterium. That case, and the rise of antibiotic resistance, has fueled interest in phages, Hatfull says.