For many years, we've been following the research on phages, viruses that kill bacteria, once a staple of Soviet medicine and now touted as a possible answer to the worrying rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
Steffanie Strathdee is an infectious disease epidemiologist; she's written a book about her husband Tom Patterson's near-death experience: Patterson was nearly killed by a large ("soccer-ball sized"), infected cyst in his gut, and his life was saved by experimental phage therapy at UCSD medical center.
That book, The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir, co-written with Patterson, is "one part medical mystery, one part personal memoir," and contains a wealth of accessible material on the potential of phages to treat nascent superbugs.
Strathdee and Patterson were interviewed by Wired's Megan Molteni. It's fascinating stuff, and I've ordered a copy of The Perfect Predator after reading about it.
SS: It's been moving very quickly. After Tom's case was publicized in April of 2017, we received funding to start North America's first center devoted to better understanding the role of phage therapy for treating superbugs. It's at UC San Diego, called IPATH, for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics, and we now have two clinical trials in the works. One is for people with ventricular assist devices who tend to get infected with biofilm-forming bacteria, which are difficult for antibiotics to penetrate. And the other is for cystic fibrosis patients who develop resistance to the drugs that keep them alive by fighting off chronic lung infections.
They're small trials, but they'll help answer a lot of the questions we still have at the end of Tom's case. Like, what happened to all the phages we injected into him? Where did they go? Did his immune system have any pre-existing antibodies? What's the right dose? These sorts of things will help inform bigger trials and help phage therapy into the mainstream and not something that was just whispered about between scientists in university hallways.
This Viral Therapy Could Help Us Survive the Superbug Era [Megan Molteni/Wired]