By Laura Shin
Posting in Science
As antibiotics have begun to create resistant bacteria, scientists have begun looking for alternatives. One type of virus, bacteriophages, look promising.
If you ever had a sniffle, you wanted the doctor to give you an antibiotic -- even if your sniffle was due to a virus and you knew, theoretically, that antibiotics had no effect on viruses.
But those days are long gone, now that antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are, frightfully, becoming more common and probiotics are all the rage.
And that means that the quest to find alternative ways to kill off bacterial infections is more urgent than ever.
By the end of the year, ContraFect Corporation, a Yonkers, N.Y., biotech firm, will begin testing bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria and destroy them, to see if they could be a good alternative to treating bacterial infections.
Scientific American interviewed ContraFect microbiologist Dr. Vincent Fischetti about the work the company is doing, which includes:
- developing phage-lytic enzymes to prevent infection -- to decolonize people of pathogenic bacteria
- creating treatments that attack bio-films, an accumulation of organisms that prevent antibiotics from getting into infected areas; they are especially difficult to treat because they are not growing, and antibiotics attack organisms that are growing
This video below is a condensed version of an interview that Scientific American conducted with Dr. Fischetti:
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via: Scientific American
photo: Bacteriophage P2 under an transmission electron microscope (Mfh1234/Wikimedia)
Aug 15, 2012
...but new risks too. The advantage is that compared with antibiotics, viral agents are like using a needle instead of a sledge hammer. They can target more accurately with less likelihood of 'collateral damage.' The disadvantage is that we have little knowledge of the possible adverse effects, such as genetic material transfer between organisms. It is equally certain that any life form we attack using viral agents, will, under the right circumstances, eventually develop it's own defenses...there is no such thing as the ultimate weapon or defense in any conflict no matter how large--or small.
Bacteriophages used in medicine preceded the use of penicillin. The subsequent discovery and use of antibiotics more or less erased the use of bacteriophages, and little research has been done in the intervening years. But some has, and every few years for the last decade or so, an article is published about this "amazing 'new' process". Check back in 2015 to see if anything came of it...