By: Sarah Wornow
Edited by: Alyscia Batista
Bacteriophage therapy has existed long before antibiotics, but most people have never heard of it. Primarily developed in the Soviet Union in the early 1900s, phage therapy quickly rose to prominence in treating bacterial infections but was abandoned by Western medicine in the 1940s with the advent of antibiotics like penicillin. Antibiotics proved to be advantageous for multiple reasons. For example, a single antibiotic has the potential to clear infections caused by a diverse array of bacteria. Antibiotics are also easily mass produced and cultivated in labs.
Despite saving millions of people since their creation, antibiotics are not perfectly efficacious. In fact, because antibiotics are used in such ubiquity, some bacteria have evolved resistance to antibiotic treatment. Every year in the US, there are over 2.8 million antibiotic resistant infections, which result in 35,000 deaths.  The antibiotic resistance problem is “worse than we previously thought,” states Dr. Michael Craig, senior advisor for antibiotic resistance at the CDC.  In an age of rising resistance, scientists are now looking at alternatives to antibiotics. Bacteriophage therapy could be the solution to this problem.
Phage therapy utilizes bacteriophages, viruses that attack bacteria, to treat bacterial infections. The phages are highly specific for the bacteria causing the infection. This specificity allows for targeted treatment, which is beneficial in that it doesn’t cause non-specific bacterial resistance like antibiotics do. Another advantage of phage therapy is the relative amount of phages needed to kill the bacteria. Because viruses replicate inside their host when they undergo the lytic cycle, one virus has the potential to create thousands of identical viruses, each with the power to specifically kill the bacteria that’s causing the infection.  In opposition to antibiotics, which may require multiple doses to effectively kill the bacteria, phage therapy may require only one dose to rid a patient of an infection. In situations where there’s a lack of available resources to combat infections, the use of this method could be extremely beneficial in preventing a health crisis.
In recent years, progress has been made in using phage therapy to combat diseases. Researchers involved in alcoholic liver disease, which affects heavy drinkers, have used phage therapy to treat mice with the disease. Because the scientists knew which bacteria caused the disease, E. faecalis, they wanted to use a precise way to remove only that bacteria from the gut without disrupting the billions of naturally-occurring bacteria that are found in the body.  They found that the therapy was able to completely eradicate the bacteria from the liver, reversing the symptoms of the disease.  Just a small dose of the phages effectively rid the mice of the disease without allowing for the bacteria to develop resistance to the treatment. With just this one experiment, phage therapy has jumped to the forefront of potential new treatments for bacterial infections.
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 Divya Ganeshan, Sharita, and Zeinab Hosseinidoust. “Phage Therapy with a Focus on the Human Microbiota.” Antibiotics (Basel, Switzerland). MDPI, August 27, 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6783874/
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