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Many species of life-threatening bacteria are immune to antibiotics, and because of this, about 700,000 people die each year. Of course, researchers from all over the world are trying to develop new drugs, but the process has been going on for quite a while, while they have another, less proven method of treating infections – the use of viruses that eat bacteria. Recently, an experimental and extremely risky method helped save the life of a girl, whose probability of survival was less than one percent. How was the treatment?

The girl who escaped imminent death was seventeen Isabelle Carnell Holdey. Even as a child, she suffered from chronic infection with Mycobacterium abscessus and from cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease accompanied by damage to the endocrine glands and dysfunction of respiration. She underwent a lung transplantation, after which her condition worsened greatly: the infection was activated with double force, the liver increased in size, and the postoperative wound became severely inflamed.

Desperate solution

Antibiotic treatment did not give results, so the patient's mother asked the doctors to conduct an experimental treatment with the help of bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacterial cells. Fortunately, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh rather quickly found viruses in their huge collection that could effectively fight M.Abscessus GD01 bacteria strain isolated from the patient.

The best candidates for therapeutic use were the bacteriophages Muddy, ZoeJ and BPs. A couple of the latter were less effective first, but the researchers applied the method of genetic engineering and increased their therapeutic power. A mixture of three viruses was administered to the patient's body for 32 weeks every 12 hours — during the procedure, Elizabeth had hot flashes, but no other side effects were found.

I had an assumption that our collection of bacteriophages could be extremely powerful for solving all sorts of questions in biology, but I didn’t think that we would get to their therapeutic use, ”shared microbiologist Graham Hatfull.

Six months after the start of treatment, the patient's condition improved markedly, and this can be seen in the tomographic images below. Under the number 1 indicates damage to the soft tissues, the number 2 indicates the lymph nodes, and the number 3 – skin nodules. The difference between the two images with a semi-annual difference is very noticeable, the lesions and inflammations have greatly diminished. As a result, the girl began to gain weight, and the bacteria Mycobacterium abscessus ceased to appear in her sputum.

According to the researchers, this is the first case in history of using genetically engineered bacteriophages to treat a dangerous infectious human disease. At the same time, they recognize that the reason for the improvement in the condition of the girl could be another of the simultaneously conducted treatment methods – one clinical success does not yet prove the 100% effectiveness of the method. However, when conducting therapy with other patients, researchers will have to re-select suitable bacteriophages, because Muddy, ZoeJ and BPs are not able to destroy other bacteria.

If you want to learn more about bacteriophages and understand exactly how they can save humanity, we encourage you to read our material on this particular topic. Also do not forget to write comments and subscribe to our Telegram channel with announcements and entertaining content!

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