This is the first of 6 guest posts on infectious causes of chronic disease.
By David Massaquoi
Is this the Beginning of the end of antibiotic resistant problem or just another scientific false hope of eradicating microorganisms that have co-existed with humans for millions of years? In the days before antibiotics, some researchers saw bacteriophages, viruses that can seek out and destroy bacteria, as a promising candidate for fighting infections. Now, as more organisms develop resistance to existing antibiotics, phage research is finding new favor.
(More after the jump…)
At the Society for General Microbiology meeting in Edinburgh, September, 2007, researchers presented work on incorporating bacteriophages into dressings for wounds and cleaning materials used in hospitals. According to the paper, scientists have found a way to bind the phages to polymer particles, allowing the viruses to remain active for up to three weeks rather than breaking down after a few hours. The hope is that the phage-based approach will provide new weapons in the battle against dangerous bacteria such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Is this the end of an era of the “superbugs” or is science hoping too much? Ever since the advancement of science in the field of microbiology, notable scientists have made “statements of hope” because of prominent discoveries in their fights against microorganisms, especially bacteria. Anytime great strides are made against these microorganisms, scientific community would hope the race against our inseparable life partners is eventually been won. With the understanding of the “germ theory” Louis Pastuer and his colleagues of those golden days of microbiology never dreamt scientist would still be fighting today to prevent and/or cure human diseases due primarily to these same bugs. When penicillin was discovered, with its successes, Alexander Fleming and colleagues could not have thought his fellow scientists would today be battling antibiotic resistant bacteria now dubbed “superbugs”, even though his mentor and he warned against antibiotic resistant bacteria due to misuse of penicillin.
Successes like those made by Pastuer and colleagues of his time and the advent of penicillin and other scientific advances in the areas of infectious diseases made the then US Surgeon General, William Stewart, made the now infamous statement: “Time to close the book on infectious diseases”. Today, 40years on, scientists around the globe are fighting the problems of bacteria more now than ever because of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The problems of “superbugs” have now pushed scientists to try something natural, something different, something hopeful – using virus eating bacteria to help fight bacteria infections in humans and in our environs. Is this the end of an era or the beginning of the end? Will this be another disappointment for the science community in the battle against bacteria? Margie Patlak’s article for FDA, states: Book Reopened on Infectious Diseases, indirectly referring to the infamous statement of former Surgeon General, William Stewart. Is the book reopened forever or will bacteriophages help science at last to close the books on “superbugs”?
In the National Public Radio (NPR) “Science Friday” Programming, on Friday, April 4th 2008, one of the quests on the radio show stated that his research group was confident of the prospect of using bacteriophages to treat not only infected wounds or the problems of MRSA, but could also use “phage sterile sprays” in household kitchen counters to kill opportunist bacteria. “Bacteriophages, which are called bacteria ‘eaters’, have been around for centuries feeding on bacteria and evolving with bacteria as they change” Alexander Sulakvelidze, Vice-President, Research and Development, Chief Scientist, Intralytix, Inc, stated.
According to an article on Intralytix, Inc web, Bacteriophages were first used therapeutically in humans in 1919 (shortly after their discovery), to treat severe cases of bacteria dysentery in four children in Paris, France. According to the article, all treated patients recovered from their ailment that could have been fatal. That study, mentioned in her article was conducted in close collaboration with Felix d’Herelle, one of the discoverers of bacteriophages. Few years later, in 1921, Richard Bruynoghe and Joseph Maisin published their success of using bacteriophages to treat staphylococcal skin disease in six patients. Since that time, the idea of using phages to treat bacterial infections has been carried on around the globe.
The rapid and alarming emergence of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” has rekindled interest in phage therapy in the West. Intralytix is developing several phage preparations for preventing and treating bacteria diseases in humans. The company’s first human health product was a topical preparation, designated WPP-201™, for treating bacterially-infected skin ulcers commonly found in diabetic patients.
The interesting question to ask at this time is: Is this the Beginning of the end? Will the use of viruses – notably bacteria viruses that do not infect humans finally help science to solve the growing problems bacteria that has beleaguered mankind for millions of years? What if these scientifically targeted bacteria become resistance to the viruses, then what? Alexander Sulakvelidze and others on the show confidently stated that the problems of resistance to this “viral therapeutic use” should not be of concern for few reasons: First, bacteriophages are purely bacteria eating viruses and do not infect humans. The other was, these viruses are known to have evolved for billions of years with the bacteria themselves, and therefore, the viruses will evolve if the bacteria evolve to become resistant. Finally, the viral therapies will be target specific and the therapies have been successfully used before.
These are promising but … What if these bugs becomes “super, superbugs” What if the misuse of bacteriophages caused them to evolved into something else and become human viruses? What if …? Is this the beginning of the end? Are we finally solving the problems of “superbugs” or beginning the era of “super, superbugs”. Well, it is very possible our generation will not deal with the problems of “super, superbugs” evolved from the over used of bacteriophages, after all, Fleming and his colleagues are currently not dealing with MRSA – and they warned us against misuse of penicillin. I am a very optimistic science student who hopes to someday solve the world’s problem of infectious diseases, but I however asked a lot of questions – especially when I don’t understand new concepts.
Originally from Sierra Leone, David has a BS degree in biology and worked at the NIH before coming to Iowa to pursue a graduate degree in public health at the Des Moines University Medical Center (DMU). He is currently enrolled at the University of Iowa in the PhD program to study Infectious Disease Epidemiology and International Health. Once he completes his studies, David hopes to engage in infectious disease research and epidemiological investigation in developing nations.
1. Sulakvelidze, A., Alavidze, Z., and Morris, J. G., Jr., Bacteriophage therapy, Antimicrob Agents Chemother 45 (3), 649-659, 2001.
2. Bruynoghe, R. and Maisin, J., Essais de thérapeutique au moyen du bactériophage du Staphylocoque, J Compt Rend Soc Biol 85, 1120-1121, 1921.
3. Alisky, J., Iczkowski, K., Rapoport, A., and Troitsky, N., Bacteriophages show promise as antimicrobial agents, J Infect 36 (1), 5-15, 1998.
4. National Public Radio: Science Friday Programming. Friday April, 2008
5. Heist A. Human Therapeutics.
6. Patlak M. Book Reopened on Infectious Diseases. FDA Consumer magazine. April 1996.
Image from http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/media/images/105_1_f.jpg