In aid of antibiotic awareness week I thought I would write a blog post about bacteriophage therapy- which is a possible alternative to antibiotic therapy. Antibiotic resistance (also called antimicrobial resistance) is a global problem. In 2016, approximately 700,000 people died due to antimicrobial resistance. If nothing changes, by 2050 antimicrobial resistance will result in 10 million deaths per year. There is a desperate search for alternatives to antibiotic therapy.
Bacteriophages are natural or synthetic viruses that infect and kill specific bacteria. They do this by injecting their DNA into the bacterial cell, the bacteria then replicates the viral DNA and synthesises new bacteriophages. These new bacteriophages burst out of the cell, killing it in the process. This is summarised in the diagram below.
The specificity of these bacteriophages for specific bacteria can be harnessed to treat bacterial infections. One major issue with this therapy is the variability- it is extremely difficult to limit the variation between phages. This could prevent approval of this therapy for use.
This technology is by no means new, the Soviet Union invested heavily in bacteriophages. With the looming antibiotic resistance crisis, western researchers are giving bacteriophages a more serious look. Research in this field is progressing fast and looks promising- so fingers crossed this therapy could play a part in tackling the antimicrobial resistance crisis.