In the face of antibiotic resistance, other options are being sought to attack bacteria.
Why is phage therapy not used?
Viruses generally don't have a good reputation. So you might be surprised to learn that there are viruses that can help fight infections caused by pathogenic bacteria. Perhaps you''d be more surprised to learn that this is not a new idea, but is more than a century old.
Using viruses to treat bacterial infections is a therapy that emerged before antibiotics became popular.
But just as these remedies became cheap and common, the idea of fighting viruses against bacteria fell into oblivion.
However, the problem posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also called superbugs, has led to serious consideration being given again to treatment with viruses for certain infections.
However, not just any type of virus can be used for this purpose: only bacteriophages.
|What is phage therapy and why might it be an alternative to antibiotics?|
The history of bacteriophages
The word bacteriophage, just means eater of bacteria . This Greek name, was chosen by the microbiologist who discovered this type of virus, the Canadian Félix d'Hérelle.
When reviewing some bacteria cultures that he had in the laboratory, d'Herelle realized that some had been contaminated with other microorganisms that were attacking the bacteria. The cultures disappeared the bacteria was gone.
Thus in 1917 d'Herelle announced that he had discovered that bacteria could also get sick, and that the cause was other microorganisms that were harmful to them. In this case, these were viruses that he then called bacteriophages, which are now also referred to as phages, in short.
With this conclusion d'Herelle proposed phage therapy: a clinical treatment to treat bacterial infections using bacteriophages.
He started testing this therapy on animals, and even made successful clinical trials on patients with dysentery.
However, this therapy was eventually overshadowed by the popularization of antibiotics, which were much easier to produce, market and use than viruses.
|Phages attacking a bacterium|
Viruses vs. superbugs
Nevertheless, as time goes by, we are facing an increasing number of infections that are resistant to antibiotics, caused by the so-called superbugs.
These superbugs have evolved and are no longer sensitive to the action of the antibiotics we use to attack them: this has created the problem that drug-resistant and virtually untreatable infections are becoming more common.
As a result, chemists, microbiologists and doctors are searching for new antibiotics that may be effective, while also reviewing alternatives to conventional treatment.
As a result, attention is turning again to phages: to the same phage therapy that was proposed by D'Herelle a century ago.
One of the advantages of this type of therapy is that phages are very specific: they attack only disease-causing bacteria, without damaging our cells or destroying the beneficial bacteria in our bodies.
But the fact that they are so specific also has a disadvantage: the treatment must deliver the exact type of phage associated with the bacteria causing the infection.
Thus, even if they do not attack the body's cells, our bodies may recognize them as unwanted microbes and attack them before they can do their job.
However, modern phage therapies take these complications into account and try to design transgenic phages that are effective against bacteria, especially antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
So now you know: some viruses may be our allies, because of the Advantages of phage therapy.