The biggest global threat to human health isn’t found in pollution, war, or food shortages, but instead is caused by one of the most commonly used medications in the world- antibiotics.
Antibiotics have been used to treat bacterial infections and pathogens for almost a century now, but their widespread use has caused an unintended and unforeseen issue- the creation of antimicrobial-resistant “superbugs”.
Superbugs are bacteria and other pathogens that, through natural selection, have become immune to the antimicrobial effects of antibiotics, creating incredibly dangerous diseases that can’t be treated with any kind of medicine at all.
The World Health Organization lists antimicrobial resistant organisms as an increasingly serious threat to global health that is set to compromise the most effective treatments we, as a species, have against disease, such as major surgery and cancer chemotherapy.
A team of researchers, physicians, and scientists at the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine working in combination with the Navy Medical Research Center and the Texas A&M University, however, have recently made a huge leap forward in the application of one of the most promising antibiotic alternatives- phage therapy.
Using an experimental treatment that involves the use of bacteriophages, or viruses that target bacteria specifically, the team has successfully treated Tom Patterson, PhD, a psychiatric professor at the UCSD School of Medicine.
In 2015, Patterson contracted what appeared at the time to be pancreatitis, but it was soon discovered by a team of specialist doctors in Frankfurt, Germany, that Patterson had contracted an extremely rare, dangerous, virulent, and antimicrobial-resistant strain of the Acinetobacter baumannii pathogen.
After attempting to treat Patterson’s condition with an increasingly dangerous cocktail of potent and hazardous antibiotics, Patterson's health began to fail rapidly, at which point he was airlifted to Thornton Hospital, at UCSD. With doctors unable to stop the spread of Acinetobacter baumannii superbug, Patterson was eventually placed into a medical coma in January 2016.
In March of the same year, a research team began treating Patterson with a unique phage therapy solution provided by AmpliPhi, an advanced biotech company based in San Diego.
Within just two days of being injected with the revolutionary treatment, Patterson woke from his coma and began to make a complete recovery, demonstrating the incredible power of phage therapy.
What Is Phage Therapy Treatment?
Phage Therapy Treatment, which is sometimes referred to as viral phage therapy, is a proposed treatment for destroying bacteria that operates outside of the current antibiotic-based paradigm of modern medicine. Phage therapy harnesses the power of bacteriophages, which are viruses that parasitize bacteria by infecting them and multiplying inside of them.
Much like the way a virus attacks the human body, hijacking the cells of a host to create copies of themselves, a bacteriophage hijacks the cellular machinery of bacteria, using bacterial cells to create copies of the virus until destroying the host cell. Phage therapy treatments use genetically engineered bacteriophages that are designed to target specific pathogenic bacteria to quickly and efficiently destroy antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in an extremely short amount of time without disrupting the microbiome of the human body.
The Dangers of Antibiotic-Resistant “Superbugs”
Antimicrobial resistant superbugs, which phage therapy is one of the only solutions for, are a very real threat to the continued health of the human race. The extremely irresponsible laissez-faire administration of antibiotic treatments in the meat industry and in treating common illnesses has allowed natural selection to create a new breed of bacteria that are completely resistant to all known forms of antibiotics.
Every year, almost half a million people develop bacterial infections for which there is no cure. Of these infections, more than 20,000 cause deaths in the United States, and the rapid speed at which superbugs multiple has even begun to interfere with the treatment of conditions such as HIV and malaria.
Without a serious push for a viable treatment, the World Health Organization predicts that with the current state of poor infection control, a lack of understanding, and no unified research efforts, superbugs could be responsible for tens of millions of untreatable bacterial infections every year by 2030.
The Future of Phage Therapy Treatment
While Phage Therapy Treatment is still very much in the developmental stage, there are multiple research institutions actively working on viable phage treatments that can be mass-produced to combat the threat of superbugs.
With this latest breakthrough in the application of engineered bacteriophages, phage therapy appears to be the most effective weapon we have in the war against antibiotic-resistant bacterial superbugs.