Medical

Phage viruses can make superbugs susceptible to antibiotics again

Phage viruses can make superbu...
Researchers have found that bacteria-killing viruses could help make superbugs susceptible to antibiotics once again
Researchers have found that bacteria-killing viruses could help make superbugs susceptible to antibiotics once again
View 1 Image
Researchers have found that bacteria-killing viruses could help make superbugs susceptible to antibiotics once again
1/1
Researchers have found that bacteria-killing viruses could help make superbugs susceptible to antibiotics once again

Viruses firmly hold the world’s attention at the moment, but we shouldn’t ignore the rising health threat that bacteria pose, too. The crafty critters are fast evolving resistance to antibiotics, meaning our best drugs could soon stop working entirely. Now researchers in Australia have found a way to bypass drug resistance in these so-called superbugs – by distracting them with predatory viruses.

Antibiotics were one of the most important medical breakthroughs of the 20th century, saving countless lives by clearing out infections that previously may have been lethal. Unfortunately, we’ve been locked in a biological arms race ever since, as bacteria develop better and better defenses against the drugs.

And the tide is slowly turning in their favor. Our last line of defense is already beginning to fail, with some bacteria now impervious to anything we can throw at them. Studies have predicted that if this trend continues, superbugs could kill as many as 10 million people a year by 2050.

In an effort to find new treatments, scientists are beginning to circle back to old, discarded ideas. At the top of the list is phage therapy, which uses bacteriophages – tiny viruses that prey solely on bacteria – to hunt down the superbugs. Since antibiotics were discovered soon after phages were, there was never a dire need to develop phage therapy further. Until now.

For the new study, researchers from Monash University set out to find a phage that would target and kill a superbug called Acinetobacter baumannii. This opportunistic bacteria, often acquired in hospitals, is currently priority target number one on the World Health Organization’s hit list.

The team identified a phage from wastewater that almost completely wiped out A. baumannii in lab culture tests. Unfortunately, the effect was short-lived, and it only took a few hours before the bacteria developed resistance to the phages. But there’s an intriguing upside to the story: in developing resistance to phages, the bacteria became vulnerable to antibiotics again.

"A. baumannii produces a capsule, a viscous and sticky outer layer that protects it and stops the entry of antibiotics," says Gordillo Altamirano, lead author of the study. "Our phages use that same capsule as their port of entry to infect the bacterial cell. In an effort to escape from the phages, A. baumannii stops producing its capsule; and that's when we can hit it with the antibiotics it used to resist."

In tests, the phage therapy was found to resensitize the bacteria to at least seven different antibiotics that it was once resistant to. Phage therapy proved effective in tests on mice, raising hopes that the two could work well as a team in the future.

The research was published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Source: Monash University

2 comments
2 comments
Dirk Scott
“ there was never a dire need to develop phage therapy further. Until now”. Not quite true: “ Isolated from Western advances in antibiotic production in the 1940s, Soviet scientists continued to develop already successful phage therapy to treat the wounds of soldiers in field hospitals. During World War II, the Soviet Union used bacteriophages to treat many soldiers infected with various bacterial diseases e.g. dysentery and gangrene. Soviet researchers continued to develop and to refine their treatments and to publish their research and results. However, due to the scientific barriers of the Cold War, this knowledge was not translated and did not proliferate across the world. A summary of these publications was published in English in 2009 in "A Literature Review of the Practical Application of Bacteriophage Research“ Source: Wikipedia.
wolf0579
this wouldn't be such a problem in the US, if the FDA WOULD DO IT'S JOB! They continue to allow corporations to market "sanitizers" NOT based on alcohol or bleach, (because you can't patent those two), resulting in a market flooded with "products" that will encourage resistant bacteria. During this pandemic, we see a host of companies "sanitizing" everything from shopping carts to school desks with these dangerous compounds, because they are less expensive than the proper types of sanitizers.

When these resistant bacteria explode, and people start dying in droves, I will be placing the blame squarely on Trump's FDA, and the greedy corporations he so loves.