The therapy that worked when antibiotics have no effect

One of the biggest concerns of medicine for the future is to win the battle against super resistant bacteria. According to the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases (SEIMC), a total of 221,958 patients will suffer a disease caused by these agents in the coming decades. Without going any further, last year more than 35,000 deaths from this cause were quantified, a scenario that the SEIMC describes as "extreme gravity." In addition, from the organization confirm that "our country is at the forefront in the consumption of antibiotics without any epidemiological reason", which worsens the situation.

The classic treatment when it comes to fighting bacteria is that of the antibiotics, But what to do in case these no longer have any effect due to their non-indicated consumption or because the pathogen is so strong that they cannot do anything? For a few years, there is a bacteriophage therapy based on viruses. It is nothing new, since, according to 'Massive Science', it is a medical technique developed at the beginning of the 20th century in the Soviet Union. Now it is gaining popularity in the United States and Europe, where it is being tested as a way to treat from burns to urinary tract infections.

The "phages" were administered every 12 hours and the skin lesions caused by the infection began to disappear.

From United Kingdom comes the story of Isabelle Carnell-Holdaway, a patient of only 15 years who was discharged from Grean Ormond Street Hospital, in London, after having undergone a lung transplant seven months before as a result of cystic fibrosis, a degenerative disease with which she was born. Although there were no complications in the surgery, his immune system weakened and in the operating room he became infected with an infection nothing timely drug resistant. In the end, the antibiotic supply was withdrawn due to its serious side effects that left him with liver failure, and the young woman was relegated to palliative care.

The doctors did not know what to do or where to continue. In this way, they contacted Graham Hatfull, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh whose laboratory studies bacteriophage viruses that infect and kill tuberculosis bacteria. One of these pathogens affected Carnell-Holdaway, so Hatfull and his research team inquired into his library with more than 10,000 "phages" different to find one that could work for the patient.

Thanks to bacteriological research, we can find other ways to attack infections in the future

After identifying three that could damage the bacteria more effectively, doctors had to overcome one more obstacle: one of them was programmed to infect, but not to kill the bacteria. This behavior is known as lysogenic cycle, in contrast to the lithic cycle in which a virus copies itself before leaving the host cell and destroying it. To find a solution, Hatfull and his team decided to genetically design the virus so that as soon as it entered the bacteria, it would destroy it.

The team had to pass the relevant quality controls and obtain regulatory permission to send viruses from the United States to the United Kingdom. At first, as Hatfull acknowledges in 'Massive Science', he thought of treatment as a hypothesis; later, he would take his guess to another level. His discovery could save Carnell-Holdaway's life.

"A deep relief"

The patient began to show improvement weeks later. The "phages" were administered intravenously every 12 hours and the young woman began to perceive how the skin lesions caused by the infection began to disappear, her respiratory function improved and she also gained weight. After nine days of intensive follow-up in the hospital, Carnell-Holdaway did not report any adverse effects to viruses. "We feel a deep relief," says Hatfull. In the end, when he finally recovered enough and was discharged, the medical team could not feel more optimistic with the idea of ​​having found the remedy to the disease. "We are in the middle of an unknown territory," Hatfull acknowledges, since this type of alternative treatment to antibiotics had never given such good results. The medical history of Carnell-Holdaway is a road map to solve this great threat to human health that is expected to be much worse in a few years.

Now, the patient has returned to normal life and has returned to school. This month marks a year since the therapy began. Doctors doubt whether the viruses will permanently keep the infection at bay or how long the young woman should be under treatment. However, this case has given wings to the international medical community to find a solution to bacterial pathologies. "It's really exciting", recognizes Hatfull. "This case has made us firmly believe that thanks to bacteriological research, we can find other ways to attack the disease. There is great potential behind this discovery. "