New viruses to treat bacterial diseases

September 3, 2007

Viruses found in the River Cam in Cambridge, famous as a haunt of students in their punts on long, lazy summer days, could become the next generation of antibiotics, according to scientists speaking today at the Society for General Microbiology’s 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

With antibiotics now over-prescribed for treatments of bacterial infections, and patients failing to complete their courses of treatment properly, many bacteria are able to pick up an entire
array of antibiotic resistance genes easily by swapping genetic material with each other.

MRSA – the multiple drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus - and newly emerging strains of the superbug Clostridium difficile have forced medical researchers to realise that an entirely different approach is required to combat these bacteria.

“By using a virus that only attacks bacteria, called a phage – and some phages only attack specific types of bacteria – we can treat infections by targeting the exact strain of bacteria causing the disease”, says Ana Toribio from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, UK. “This is much more targeted than conventional antibiotic therapy”.

The scientists used a close relative of Escherichia coli, the bacterium that commonly causes food poisoning and gastrointestinal infections in humans, called Citrobacter rodentium, which has exactly the same gastrointestinal effects in mice. They were able to treat the infected mice with a cocktail of phages obtained from the River Cam that target C. rodentium. At present they are optimizing the selection of the viruses by DNA analysis to utilise phage with different profiles.

“Using phages rather than traditional broad-spectrum antibiotics, which essentially try to kill all bacteria they come across, is much better because they do not upset the normal microbial balance in the body”, says Dr Derek Pickard from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “We all need good bacteria to help us fight off infections, to digest our food and provide us with essential nutrients, and conventional antibiotics can kill these too, while they are fighting the disease-causing bacteria”

Phage based treatment has been largely ignored until recently in Western Europe and the USA. The main human clinical reports have come from Eastern Europe, particularly the Tbilisi Bacteriophage Institute in Georgia where bacteriophages are used for successful treatment of infections such as diabetic ulcers and wounds. More studies are planned along western clinical trial lines with all the standards required.

“The more we can develop the treatment and understand the obstacles encountered in using this method to treat gut infections, the more likely we are to maximise its chance of success in the long term”, says Ana Toribio. “We have found that using a variety of phages to treat one disease has many benefits over just using one phage type to attack a dangerous strain of bacteria, overcoming any potential resistance to the phage from bacterial mutations”.

“This brings us back to the problem we are trying to address in the first place. If anything, conventional antibiotic treatment has led to MRSA and other superbug infections becoming not only more prevalent but also more infectious and dangerous. Bacteriophage therapy offers an alternative that needs to be taken seriously in Western Europe”, says Derek Pickard.

Source: Society for General Microbiology

Explore further: Backyard chicken trend leads to more disease infections

Related Stories

Backyard chicken trend leads to more disease infections

October 19, 2017
Luke Gabriele was a healthy 14-year-old football player in Pennsylvania when he began to feel soreness in his chest that grew increasingly painful. After his breathing became difficult, doctors detected a mass that appeared ...

Bacterial pathogens outwit host immune defences via stealth mechanisms

October 20, 2017
Despite their relatively small genome in comparison to other bacteria, mycoplasmas can cause persistent and often difficult-to-treat infections in humans and animals. An extensive study by researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna ...

Madagascar plague deaths hit 94, 1,100 suspected cases: WHO

October 20, 2017
The death toll from a plague outbreak in Madagascar has risen to 94, with the number of suspected cases jumping to more than 1,100, the World Health Organization said Friday.

Cancer drug found to offer promising results in treating sepsis in test mice

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A combined team of researchers from China and the U.S. has found that a drug commonly used to treat lung cancer in humans offers a degree of protection against sepsis in test mice. In their paper published ...

An in-depth look at food-borne illnesses

October 16, 2017
Parties and gatherings are typically centered around food, making it important to know the do's and don'ts of handling food.

In Madagascar, plague outbreak now threatens largest cities

October 16, 2017
As plague cases rose last week in Madagascar's capital, many city dwellers panicked. They waited in long lines for antibiotics at pharmacies and reached through bus windows to buy masks from street vendors. Schools have been ...

Recommended for you

Study reveals key molecular link in major cell growth pathway

October 19, 2017
A team of scientists led by Whitehead Institute has uncovered a surprising molecular link that connects how cells regulate growth with how they sense and make available the nutrients required for growth. Their work, which ...

Tracing cell death pathway points to drug targets for brain damage, kidney injury, asthma

October 19, 2017
University of Pittsburgh scientists are unlocking the complexities of a recently discovered cell death process that plays a key role in health and disease, and new findings link their discovery to asthma, kidney injury and ...

Engineered protein treatment found to reduce obesity in mice, rats and primates

October 19, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with pharmaceutical company Amgen Inc. report that an engineered version of a protein naturally found in the body caused test mice, rats and cynomolgus monkeys to lose weight. In their ...

New procedure enables cultivation of human brain sections in the petri dish

October 19, 2017
Researchers at the University of Tübingen have become the first to keep human brain tissue alive outside the body for several weeks. The researchers, headed by Dr. Niklas Schwarz, Dr. Henner Koch and Dr. Thomas Wuttke at ...

Inflammation trains the skin to heal faster

October 18, 2017
Scars may fade, but the skin remembers. New research from The Rockefeller University reveals that wounds or other harmful, inflammation-provoking experiences impart long-lasting memories to stem cells residing in the skin, ...

Large variety of microbial communities found to live along female reproductive tract

October 18, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A large team of researchers from China (and one each from Norway and Denmark) has found that the female reproductive tract is host to a far richer microbial community than has been thought. In their paper ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.