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Cures and Prevention For Some of the Worst Diseases Come From a Surprising Ally – Our Sewers

Cures and Prevention For Some of the Worst Diseases Come From a Surprising Ally – Our Sewers

An atomic resolution 3D model of a Bacteriophage – CC SA 4.0. Dr. Victor Padilla-Sanchez

If it still holds that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then a virus that kills bacteria might be a good place to start developing medicines.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) creating “superbugs” is the largest threat to individual health on Earth. As many as 60% of the strains of common bacteria that live in our society are now resistant to antibiotics in some way.

The Eliava Institute of Bacteriophages, Microbiology, and Virology in Tbilisi, Georgia has been studying the effects of “phage therapy” on the treatment of AMR for decades, back when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Phage therapy uses bacteriophages, a kind of virus that infects, replicates in, and kills bacterial microbes, as a tool to clear AMR infections, and studies done at the institute between 2014 and 2018 had a more than 95% improvement and recovery rate, with no cases of complications or side effects after phage application.

However, these tiny lifeforms are difficult to find.

National Geographic reported on Kenyan virologists digging through Nairobi’s sewage where quadrillions of microbes work hard to break down sewage matter. This high concentration of bacteria inevitably attracts predators—bacteriophages.

At the Kenyan Medical Research Institute’s Department of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the virologists test isolated phages caught from the sewage plant on two AMR strains of Klebsiella pneumonia and Pseudomonas aeruginosa—two of the most common AMR superbugs in Kenya.

The virologists won’t know what it was that killed the bacteria—phages are microscopic in relation to bacteria, which are microscopic to our eyes. Instead, evidence of the bacterias’ deaths is found, and the sample is stored in deep freeze for later investigation.

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This research is much more cost-effective and fast than producing new antibiotics, which based on the significant financial risks imposed by government agencies like the FDA of putting a drug through trials (a pharma company can lose upwards of $10 billion if a drug makes it to phase 3 trials and fails) no new antibiotics have been developed since 1980.

Another advantage, particularly for phage therapy in African and Asian countries that lack a domestic pharmaceutical industry, is that bacteriophages tend to be more effective when they live in the same environment as AMR bacteria. Kenya’s research institute found that phages from Georgia weren’t as effective as killing superbugs that evolved in Kenya for example.

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Additionally, phages evolve to prey on one species of bacteria, meaning in potential human use, they won’t harm the plethora of non-harmful, friendly microbes that are so vital to human health and wellbeing.

The Kenyan team has so far identified 150 different phages, and in the US, 60 clinical trials are currently registered to test phages for safety and efficacy in treating AMR superbug infections.

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