Viruses save a man from antibiotic-resistant bacteria
In April, it was reported that 69-year‑old Tom Patterson, an American who fell gravely ill with an antibiotic-resistant acinetobacter infection, had been brought out of a two-month coma by an injected cocktail of bacteriophages, tiny viruses that specifically attack and kill bacteria.
The story is a testament to Patterson’s wife (Steffanie Strathdee, a scientist), who searched for alternative therapies when conventional treatments failed, to his physician, Robert Schooley, who used an untested treatment, and to a large band of phage scientists, led by Ryland Young of Texas A&M University and Theron Hamilton of the US Naval Academy. Their long-term, and sometimes unfashionable, research work meant that phages were available in their labs for the rescue attempt. Because a mixed-phage cocktail was used, no one is sure what tipped the balance, but, importantly, it worked. The Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia has dispensed phage therapy for years, but it was little tried in the west until recently. This new case encourages physicians to try such microbial treatments for infected patients worldwide, when antibiotics fail. It should also encourage governments to fund more research into natural bacteria-killing microbes, because these may be medicines of the third millennium.
Liz Sockett, professor of bacterial genetics, University of Nottingham