Fighting fire with fire – using phage viruses to defeat bacterial infections

Some bacteria, yesterdayIt sounds like a crazy idea – but then that’s what they said about penicillin. Scientists from the UK are planning to use a close relative of the E. coli virus as a ‘targeted antibacterial agent’ to combat increasingly drug-resistant bacterial infections like the infamous MRSA. I’m sure they know what they’re doing … but I’m guessing doctors will want to keep fairly quiet on the antibiotic’s origins at first. [Image by Justin Baeder]

2 thoughts on “Fighting fire with fire – using phage viruses to defeat bacterial infections”

  1. E. coli is a bacterium, not a virus. In this case, E.coli’s rat-infecting relative Citrobacter rodentium was used as a testbed for phage treatment.

    Phages are viruses that infect bacteria (they’re bacteriophages). Each phage infects a single species of bacteria, so if you know for sure what bacterium you’ve got an infection of, and if you have one or more phages available for it, you can treat the host with the phages, and BIP! No more bacteria — and absolutely no side effects for the host, because the phages can’t infect anything but bacteria.

    I can easily envision this being a treatment in the future when virus synthesis will be a pushbutton affair. Analyze the bacteria causing the problem, download the phage definition file, synthesize up a batch, and viola! Treatment complete!

    Until then, though — in the US, at least, each phage will need individual and specific FDA approval, as I understand it, and will only affect a single species of bacterium. No money in it, you see. So nobody will attempt clinical trials.

    Bah. Another reason to leave the States.

  2. Cheers for the corrections, Michael – ScienceDaily isn’t always astonishingly accurate, and I’ll confess to getting a little confused as to the difference between bacteria and viruses.

    And I doubt the US will be the only place to restrict this sort of medicine if there’s a financial incentive to do so … though we can hope otherwise. I hear Estonia’s lovely this time of year! 😉

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