Friday, December 9, 2016

Phage Therapy Saves Man's Life

When bacteriophages were first discovered, researchers looked into ways to use these viruses to treat bacterial infections. These phage therapies were used widely until antibiotics were invented and became the preferred treatment method. However, bacterial evolution has been heavily influenced by antibiotics and recently antibiotic-resistance is a growing problem. Phage therapy may be an excellent way to combat this. 

This year, doctors used phage therapy in an experimental treatment to save Ali Khodadoust's life. After coronary artery bypass surgery, Khodadoust a serious bacterial infection in his chest from Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Despite aggressive antibiotic regimens for months, the infection persisted and his situation grew grim. Then one day,  young scientist named Benjamin Chan reached out to Khodadoust and his doctor, with an plan. Chan had already found a potential phage treatment, but since phage treatments aren't approved by the FDA, he needed a patient who couldn't be cured by antibiotics, to receive a grant for "compassionate use." Since the antibiotic-resistant bacteria had evolved to have pumps that flush out the antibiotic molecules, Chan suggested that he try to find a bacteriophage that infected the bacteria by attaching to those pumps. This allows for bacteria without pumps to be killed by antibiotics, and resistant bacteria to be killed by the phages. After an extensive search, Chan found a suitable bacteriophage in pond water, and named it OMKO1. After approval, Chan injected 100 million OMKO1 phages as well as antibiotics into Khodadoust's chest. Several months later when they performed another chest surgery, they discovered that the infection was completely gone. 

Although phage therapy won't be standard treatment for awhile, the NIH has began funding phage therapy research. 

-Anne Sommer

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