A new treatment is saving lives. It just isn’t saving lives in the United States. Known as “phage” treatments, which isshort for “Bacteriophage,” this new approach to battling bacterial infections is offering an alternative to antibiotics, which are offering a diminishing return for effectively fighting infection. Ryland Young, a phage biologist with Texas A&M, has suggested that phage treatments could be an alternative to traditional medical means using antibiotic resistant drugs.
Mr. Young conducted a study of these Bacteriophage treatments, and he claims they show “impressive success rates for infections that have shown resistance to antibiotics.” He further believes: “These results suggest that phage therapy should at least be accorded the status of emergency treatment for cases where antibiotic treatments have failed,” said Young.
In some ways, the Bacteriophages are superior to standard antibiotics. The phages are active viruses that destroy only the bacteria. On the other hand, antibiotics, as the name suggests, are murderous treatments that attack healthy cells and harmful bacterial cells alike, leaving increased side-effects. The idea is to bombard the body with antibiotics, wiping out the bacteria. The issue with this treatment is both harm to the patients and increased bacterial resistance to medication.
As bacteria grow stronger against antibiotics, the human ability to fight them is severely disabled. These resistant bacteria are not wiped out by the invading bombardment, but the damage to the patient is still felt.
In many cases, the cure is worse than the disease.
Bacteriophages, however, act with much more direction. They are designed to interact with and kill only the bacterial cells, so they do not harm the host with the same impudence. Once the bacterial infection has been eradicated, the phages have nothing to survive on. They perish in the host, leaving minimal damage and fewer side-effects.
This directed motion is helpful when a single bacteria is the known cause, but with trillions of bacterial organisms, it can sometimes be difficult to implement these “smart bomb” phage treatments.
Texas A&M research into the phages shows great promise, but it may be years before a Bacteriophage program is allowed in the United States. Currently, countries overseas are the only ones actively using pages to fight bacteria. Experts like Young say that research is limited, and more tests are required. The U.S. favored developing antibiotics, which are more profitable and operate on a broader spectrum. The most active phage programs exist in the former Soviet Union and India where lives are being saved by phages.
“If we had taken the long distant view in what we are doing clinically over a long period time, we should have tried to broaden our arsenal in dealing with bacterial infections, and it should have included bacterial-based infections,” said biotechnology professor Graham Hatfull, who works with phage and is co-director of Pitt’s Bacteriophage Institute. “Now with bacterial pathogens on an inevitable march toward resistance, we are wishing we had started earlier on phage therapy.”