Phage treatment: The new weapon in antibiotic-resistant infections?

Approaches using the bacteria-slaying virus called phages have been around for decades; however after researchers at the University of California, San Diego used the phage treatment to fight an infection that almost killed a colleague, UCSD is developing a clinical center to refine phage treatments for patient use, according to Science.

The center plans to initially hold 16 UCSD researchers and physicians while aiming to run rigorous clinical trials to the phage treatment. The treatment has been available in Europe but not in the U.S.

"There have been just a ton of failures and false starts," Paul Bollyky, MD, PhD, of Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif., told Science. "The fact that a major American medical center is going to set up an ongoing enterprise around phage therapy … that's kind of a game changer for the field, at least in the United States."

"Turning phages — found in soil, water and sewage — into treatments isn't straightforward," according to Science. Each phage strain, found in nature, locks onto and affects a specific bacterium. For researchers to properly develop the treatment, they have to locate the right phage to fight off the specific disease at hand. With the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections, some U.S. companies and research centers are reconsidering the cumbersome phage treatment approach.

During the trial run of the treatment, researchers ran into an obstacle when the phage treatment was used on an injury that may have contained multiple bacterial infections, such as a burn wound. This made it difficult to test the effectiveness of phage therapy. The trial was designed to have 220 patients and recruited only 27. The results have not been published.

"We hope to not send people with superbugs away, but to welcome them with open arms," Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, anUCSD epidemiologist, told Science, "Right now, they don't have anywhere to go."

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control:

Florida patient is first known human to be infected with Keystone virus
Study: Children's immune system could help prevent sepsis
Vancomycin-only therapy for pediatric MRSA-flu coinfection results in 69% death rate

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