Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause infections that are hard to treat, and they may once in a while put an individual’s life in threat. However, an inventive new methodology that is the use of bacteriophages may offer a strong weapon against these “superbugs.”
Lately, many scientific reports published shows that many bacterial strands are developing resistance against antibiotics to the point that it has become a global crisis. By observing an increasing trend in resistance to antibiotics of more and more dangerous bacteria, researchers are eager to find an alternative method for fighting these “superbugs.”
Recently the researchers have been working on new methodologies and therapies which may work against the resistant bacteria including the usage of a specific type of bacteria which lives on Irish soil and different drug combinations.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, MD prove that a different methodology may be a useful way for fighting off fatal bacterial infections.
Prof. Graham Hatfull, who works at the University of Pittsburgh and at the HHMI, and his group started working on a type of infectious agent called bacteriophages also known as “phages”.
Bacteriophages — a name that actually signifies “bacteria-eating” — are viruses that targets, infects and destroys various strains of bacteria. Past research led by Prof. Hatfull proposed that there are around 10×31 bacteriophage particles on the planet.
The bacteriophages are specific in a task that is different bacteriophage attacks different strains. Therefore, it is a challenging task for the researchers to match each bacteriophage with their strain.
Reconsidering the old idea
The use of bacteriophages against infections also called “phage therapy” is an old idea. Truth to be told, this idea has been on researchers minds for 100 years.
English, French, and Russian researchers were already working on the phages in their trials at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Nonetheless, researchers clarify that initially the enthusiasm for phage therapy was not at its peak and remained flat for years. This was due to the limited availability of resources and knowledge at that time. However, the enthusiasm for phage research might be reemerging in full power on account of one recent remedial achievement.
The research paper “Engineered bacteriophages for treatment of a patient with a disseminated drug-resistant Mycobacterium abscessus” is published in the journal Nature Medicine. As per the research paper, Prof. Hatfull and his team carefully picked up different phages and while experimenting on them they were able to treat a severe infection of a 15-year-old patient who also had a complex history.
The patient had cystic fibrosis, a serious untreatable health condition that causes the development of thick mucus, not specifically only in the lungs but other parts of the body too. This, therefore, makes the body vulnerable to various kinds of infections.
In 2017, they went to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, United Kingdom, to have a double lung transplant. Soon after the procedure, the doctors observed that the surgery wound looked raw and red giving signals of the liver infection. Several nodules were formed in the body and those nodules contained bacteria, which were trying to show themselves by trying to come to the surface of the skin.
How do the viruses work against the bacteria?
The researchers worked together with the specialists at GOSH to search for bacteriophages that would destroy the particular bacterial harming the 15-year-old patient being referred to just as another youngster with cystic fibrosis. The other patient also went through a double lung transplant and had a serious infection.
The researchers accepted the request of doctors as the body of both the young patients were not responding to any of the antibiotics.
These infections, the researchers noted, did not develop now; the patients had them many years back and were in control until they went through the medical procedure, where they erupted dangerously.
“These bugs didn’t respond to antibiotics. They’re highly drug-resistant strains of bacteria,” says Prof. Hatfull. So, he explains, the scientists decided to try “[using] bacteriophages as antibiotics — as something we could use to kill bacteria that cause infection.”
Prof. Hatfull’s main interest is to study different phages and to find an effective treatment for tuberculosis (TB), which is a bacterial disease that basically settles in the lungs. His London-based partners connected in light of the fact that, as it occurred, both of their young patients had infections brought about by strains of Mycobacterium, which is likewise associated with TB.
The specialists sent Prof. Hatfull tests of the bacterial strains in charge of the patients’ infections so he and his colleagues might distinguish which phages would infect and destroy them.
Within a couple of months, they found a group of phages that could coordinate the bacteria harming one of the patients. However, the discovery came into being a little late as the patient passed away early in the same month.
When it came to identifying the phages which will certainly help the 15-year-old patient, the inquiry was not at all that smooth. In their initial stage, the group discovered three possibly valuable bacteriophages. However, it was found that only one of those three was useful against the infection of the bacteria.
Prof. Hatfull and his team members then decided to work on a solution in which they will find a way of making the less two effective genomes capable of working against the targeted bacteria.
Once they recognized a mix that was both powerful and safe, they liaised with the specialists, who at that point gave it to the patient twice every day. Each portion contained a billion of phage particles.
Following a month and a half of this new treatment, the specialists observed that the patient’s condition started to improve. The doctors reported that only two or three prominent lobules were remaining in the body.
Prof. Hatfull and his group are particularly happy to see that the target bacterium up till now has not developed resistance for the phages researchers have used against them. This implies this methodology might be one that specialists could keep on utilizing in treating extreme, resistant infections.
However, the researchers note that it is one of the challenging tasks to recognize the correct phage mix to treat individual bacterial infections. Much work is yet to be done regarding finding the best phage treatments. Prof. Graham Hatfull said: “We’re sort of in uncharted territory.”