Phages: Fighting deadly infections
The World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control call multidrug resistant bacteria one of the biggest threats to public health, with an estimated 700,000 people dying worldwide, every year. When the bacteria was killing a San Diego man, his desperate wife suggested a treatment that seemed really out there. Until it worked.
Two years ago, Steffanie Strathdee wasn’t sure she’d get moments like this with her husband, Tom Patterson. He got an antibiotic- resistant bacteria when they were on vacation.
“They saw that he had this giant abscess in his abdomen, like the size of a football, and inside was this murky brown fluid that looked like it had been there for a while,” Strathdee shared.
Doctors drained the abscess with catheters but one moved, sending more infected fluid into Patterson’s body.
Strathdee continued, “He slipped in to a coma we couldn’t wake him from. And slowly, he started to die.”
Strathdee reached out to Robert Schooley, MD, Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego, to find bacteriophages, viruses found in bacteria that kill bacteria. Dr. Schooley calls them “living antibiotics.”
“With phage, they only kill a small sliver of the bacteria of the given type, and what you have to do is you have to take the bacteria a patient has, their own organism and then screen for phage that are active against their organism,” said Dr. Schooley.
Scientists at Texas A&M and the U.S. Navy found phages that could work.
“He received the first phages on a Monday, the second set of phages on a Wednesday, and he woke up on Saturday,” Strathdee said.
Patterson had been in hospitals for nine months and in a coma for two. He’d lost 100 pounds.
“I couldn’t walk. I was in a wheelchair, and sitting up was beyond my ability for more than a moment,” Patterson told Ivanhoe.
Patterson wants to be on the front line as phages are added to the fight against superbugs.
“I think it represents evidence-based hope,” Patterson stated.
Dr. Schooley says phages would probably be studied as a combination therapy; Tom was taking powerful antibiotics along with the phages. Several national health agencies are considering clinical trials now. UC San Diego hopes to start one in a few months.
Contributors to this news report include: Wendy Chioji, Field Producer; Rusty Reed, Videographer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Hayley Hudson, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.