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What’s one of the best way to fight off diseases, like those caused by bacteria?
Why, to use other microorganisms, obviously, ones that prey on them. Enter bacteriophages, viruses evolved to specially prey on specific types of bacteria.
The History Behind The Research
Researchers at Tufts University recently announced an experiment they had conducted that managed to prevent infection by cholera bacteria in animal models. And they did it by employing the deadly assassins that make up phages.
Phage therapy isn’t anything new, however. It’s arguably existed since the early 1900s when the viruses first began being noticed in the bodies of victims of certain diseases. But with the rise of antibiotics, phage therapy faltered for several decades and fell to the wayside.
The science behind it has seen a resurgence in recent years though, but medical standards have also increased, meaning that safety research is much more stringent than it used to be. Thus far, phage therapy use in humans is largely not allowed, as there hasn’t been enough experimentation to prove the safety of the process.
Hopefully, this new research will be a step toward an approved phage therapy treatment.
In the study, the researchers used three strains of phages that they had discovered previously as harmful to the bacteria behind cholera, Vibrio cholerae. There are a surprisingly large amount of phages like this, but the team specifically sought out ones that could remain active even while within the small intestine of an animal.
With these phages, they used an oral cocktail that mixed all three phages together and gave it to mice exposed to cholera. Different experimental groups were given the cocktail at differing time periods before exposure.
The most effective treatment time period was found to be between 3 and 12 hours. Any longer and the phage numbers begin to drop. Not significantly, but enough to somewhat reduce effectiveness. But even in time periods up to 24 hours, the phage treatment continued to work as desired.
There was still bacterial resistance to be concerned about, however, as some of the cholera did appear to develop resistance to one or two of the phage types. But, upon doing a genetic analysis, they were unable to find any cholera bacteria that were resistant to all three of the phages used in the cocktail.
Finally Human Trials?
With this success, the researchers are now looking into obtaining approval for human trials and actually moving forward with a real phage treatment regimen. They have also formed a company called PhagePro and believe they will be able to create a cheap phage treatment that will be available to people around the world as a treatment against cholera.
While it won’t eradicate cholera in the world, such a treatment will still be able to significantly reduce cholera outbreaks and the deaths that come from them.
Until the entire world has been made infra-structurally sound enough to remove the risk of cholera in the water supply entirely, this seems like a good way to save lives in the meantime.
Photo CCs: Vibrio cholerae from Wikimedia Commons