HealthWatch: Phages: Fighting Deadly Infections


SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — The World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control call multidrug resistant bacteria one of the biggest threats to public health, with an estimated 700,000 people dying worldwide, every year. When the bacteria was killing a San Diego man, his desperate wife suggested a treatment that seemed really out there. Until it worked. 
Two years ago, Steffanie Strathdee wasn’t sure she’d get moments like this with her husband, Tom Patterson. He got an antibiotic- resistant bacteria when they were on vacation.
“They saw that he had this giant abscess in his abdomen, like the size of a football, and inside was this murky brown fluid that looked like it had been there for a while,” Strathdee shared.
Doctors drained the abscess with catheters but one moved, sending more infected fluid into Patterson’s body. 
Strathdee continued, “He slipped in to a coma we couldn’t wake him from. And slowly, he started to die.” 
Strathdee reached out to Robert Schooley, MD, Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego, to find bacteriophages, viruses found in bacteria that kill bacteria. Dr. Schooley calls them “living antibiotics.” 
“With phage, they only kill a small sliver of the bacteria of the given type, and what you have to do is you have to take the bacteria a patient has, their own organism and then screen for phage that are active against their organism,” said Dr. Schooley.
 Scientists at Texas A&M and the U.S. Navy found phages that could work. 
“He received the first phages on a Monday, the second set of phages on a Wednesday, and he woke up on Saturday,” Strathdee said.
Patterson had been in hospitals for nine months and in a coma for two. He’d lost 100 pounds. 
“I couldn’t walk. I was in a wheelchair, and sitting up was beyond my ability for more than a moment,” Patterson told Ivanhoe.
Patterson wants to be on the front line as phages are added to the fight against superbugs. 
“I think it represents evidence-based hope,” Patterson stated.
Dr. Schooley says phages would probably be studied as a combination therapy; Tom was taking powerful antibiotics along with the phages. Several national health agencies are considering clinical trials now. UC San Diego hopes to start one in a few months.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.
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REPORT:    MB #4417

BACKGROUND: Some bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics that were once commonly used to treat them. The most serious concern with antibiotic resistance is that some bacteria have become resistant to almost all of the easily available antibiotics. These bacteria are able to cause serious disease and this is a major public health problem.  Robert T. Schooley, MD, Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego stated that, “Over the last twenty years we’ve had an increasing problem with multi drug resistant bacterial pathogens. Part of it is the use of antibiotics in medicine, part of it is the use of antibiotics in food and animals and part of it is antibiotics that end up in the environment.” He says hospitals are trying to stay ahead of these bacteria, but are not doing a great job; “It’s been occurring steadily and as people in the hospitals get sicker and stay in the hospitals for longer periods of time with more serious illnesses we have more and more problems with patients who have these multi-drug resistant organisms that are difficult to treat.”
(Source: & Robert T. Schooley, MD)

TREATMENT: Dr. Schooley says that the current standard of care against antibiotic resistant bacteria is using antibiotics that are still active against the organisms they have. “Sometimes we have to go back to antibiotics that we stopped using 20 years ago because they were toxic, and we have to deal with the toxicities of them. But we don’t have a lot of new antibiotics in the pipeline that are going to fundamentally change what we have to offer patients over the next several years.”
(Source: Robert T. Schooley, MD)
PHAGES: Bacteria phages, which can be found commonly in stool and sewage, were used to save the life of Tom Patterson. Phages try to kill bacteria, and unlike antibiotics, they grow in bacteria and multiply and then go kill the organism next door. Bacteriophages attack only their host bacteria, not human cells, so they are potentially good candidates to treat bacterial diseases in humans. After antibiotics were discovered, the phage approach was largely abandoned in many parts of the world. However, phages continued to be used for medical purposes in several countries, including Russia, Georgia, and Poland, where they remain in use today. There is increasing interest in bringing back the “phage approach” elsewhere, as antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more and more of a problem.
(Source: & Robert T. Schooley, MD)


Heather Bushman, Media Relations 

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