Phage therapy shows promise against multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens

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Research recently published in Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapeutics shows promise for bacteriophage therapy as a treatment for multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria. The research was part of an international collaboration to search for alternatives to antibiotics.

Widespread antibiotic use has led to what the Centers for Disease Control (GA, USA) describes as the “post -antibiotic” era. In support of this, one of the leading scientists on the study, Jeremy Barr from the Monash School of University Sciences (Melbourne, Australia), stated that antibiotics can no longer be solely relied upon to halt the spread of MDR bacterial infections.

Barr’s lab studies bacteriophages, a term derived from the Greek ‘”to devour”. Phage’s are the most abundant life form in the biosphere, but manipulated in the correct way can be utilized as a weapon to fight MDR bacteria.

“Last year hundreds of patients died in the USA from bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics. Pan-resistant strains of bacterial infection are inevitable,” Barr commented.

The 68-year old diabetic patient was infected with a potentially life-threatening strain of MDR Acinetobacter baumannii, and had exhausted all other treatment options, slowly deteriorating over a 4 month period.

“Antibiotics were no longer working, and this infection would have very likely killed him had we not intervened” explained Barr. Administration of a lytic phage ‘cocktail’ resulted in a total clearance of infection and full recovery.

The findings are of significant importance as they demonstrate for the first time the ability of phage therapy to successfully treat a patient with an antibiotic-resistant blood stream infection in the US. This has wide implications for antibiotic resistance, which has been termed by WHO as a major threat to public health.

The study concludes by stressing the importance of the need for clinical trials that elicit bacteriophage-based therapeutics; how they can be utilized as a last resort, independently or together with conventional antibiotic therapy.

Sources: Schooley RT, Biswas B, Gill JJ et al. Development and use of personalized bacteriophage-based therapeutic cocktails to treat a 2 patient with a disseminated resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infection. Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. doi:10.1128/AAC.00954-17 (2017); https://monash.edu/news/articles/monash-helps-address-superbug-resistance-with-phage-therapy

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