Published Saturday, April 29, 2017 8:57PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 29, 2017 8:59PM EDT
A first American patient suffering from a serious life-threatening infection, who came close to death, has now recovered enough to return to work after being treated with phage therapy, an experimental technique involving bacteriophages (viruses that target and consume specific strains of bacteria) report doctors at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine in the USA.
Tom Patterson, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, became infected with a multidrug-resistant strain of bacteria — called Acinetobacter baumannii — in 2015 while vacationing in Egypt with his wife. The professor’s life is now no longer in danger, reveals Robert Schooley, MD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, the primary physician on the case and a friend of the patient.
This was achieved by using an alternative therapy to antibiotics called “phage therapy,” based on clinical research launched by Felix d’Herelle, a French-Canadian microbiologist at France’s Institute Pasteur who is credited with co-discovering bacteriophages.
Once Tom Patterson’s condition was sufficiently stable for him to be airlifted to the US, a few months after falling ill, the patient was administered intravenously, directly in the abdomen, with a cocktail of four bacteria-eating viruses called “phages” collected from wastewater, where they are present in high numbers. The phages were then purified for clinical use.
Scientists estimate that there are some ten million trillion trillion of these “bacteriophages” on Earth. The emergence of antibiotics in the 1940s pushed phage therapy aside, except in parts of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, where it remained a topic of active research.
Within three days of starting IV phage therapy, the patient emerged from his coma. As of June 2016, the bacteria are no longer present in his body.
Faced with this unprecedented success, the San Diego medical team envisage opening a center specially dedicated to bacteriophage research in the aim of advancing research and development of phage-based therapies.
The centenary of Felix d’Herelle’s bacteriophage research is being celebrated this week at Institut Pasteur in Paris.
In the USA, the only phages currently approved for use by the FDA are used to prevent bacterial infections in food products.
Certain practitioners in France, Canada, Germany, Australia and the USA resort to phage therapy in very rare cases when no other treatment options are available. As a result, most patients with multidrug-resistant bacteria seek treatment in Tblisi, Georgia.
The World Health Organization estimates that antimicrobial resistance will kill at least 50 million people per year by 2050.