In recent months, the word “virus” has become synonymous with a global pandemic. But we shouldn’t let one bad apple ruin the entire viral cart for us. Some viruses don’t attack human cells or any eukaryotic cells at all. They’re called bacteriophages or phages for short, and as their name suggests, they only invade bacteria or prokaryotes. Normally, humans couldn’t care less about these non-pathogenic viruses, but with antibiotic resistance on the rise, getting phages to work for us might go a long way in saving lives.
The idea of phage therapy is simple. You choose a phage that specifically attacks a strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The phages do their thing, lysing and killing the cells. And when there are no more hosts to invade, the phages simply leave the body. Our immune systems ignore phages because they’re everywhere, all the time, so there’s no secondary immune response to a viral infection. There’s no need to take large antibiotic horse pills twice a day for weeks. One dose of phages and you’ve got yourself a self-replicating, bacteria-killing cure.
Wait, but won’t the bacteria develop resistance to phage attacks? Absolutely and scientists count on it. Phages attach to pumps on bacteria cells that remove toxins, such as antibiotics. Since the bacteria are already antibiotic-resistant, there are plenty of pumps for the phages to latch on to. As the bacteria downgrades the pump production to protect themselves against phage attacks, they become re-sensitized to antibiotics again.
This Isn’t New News…
Bacteriophages were first used successfully to treat a boy with severe dysentery back in 1915. Since then, eastern European countries continued using it as a way to treat bacterial infections. Unfortunately, since their research was never published in English, this treatment never caught on in Western countries and the US. Today, phage therapy is seen as one of the very possible answers to multi-drug resistant bacteria. You’ve probably even heard anecdotes of people traveling to Georgia (the country) to receive phage therapy for persistent infections that can’t be cured with antibiotics.
Get Your Phage Here
Scientists all over the world are putting together phage display libraries to figure out which strains they can use on which bacteria. In our workshop, we currently have two types of phages available for your accessorizing needs: a necklace and a pair of earrings. We’ll admit, these won’t help with any bacterial infections, but they do make great gifts. Buy them for yourself or for your favorite immunologist, virologist, science enthusiast, or starry-eyed pre-med student.
written by Science with Evie