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The viruses that prey on human diseases
[Image: p09405j7.webp]

Once scorned as Soviet pseudoscience, phage therapy is gaining ground as a potential solution to antibiotic resistance but regulatory challenges may be its biggest hurdle.

Three years ago, Esteban Diaz was advised by his doctors to get on the lung transplant list after a life-long battle with cystic fibrosis. The disease causes excessive production of mucus in the lungs and pancreas, leaving patients extremely vulnerable to bacterial infections. In the 47-year-old Frenchman’s case, the antibiotics he had been prescribed since childhood were no longer effective against incessant infections caused by Pseudomonas aergonisa, a bacteria now classified as a superbug.

Instead, Diaz (not his real name) travelled to Georgia, a former Soviet state on the Black Sea, to undergo phage therapy, a medical treatment he says cleared up his infections within days and relieved him of the persistent fatigue, relentless coughing and breathlessness that plagued him for decades.

Phages or bacteriophages are viruses that naturally prey on bacteria by infecting and replicating within them until they burst out, killing their microbial host. There are billions of phages on Earth, and they have co-evolved with the bacteria they prey on for millennia, helping to keep their numbers in check.

Their therapeutic use was first pioneered in 1919 by Felix d’Herelle, a French-Canadian microbiologist who used phages to cure a boy suffering from severe dysentery. However, the discovery of penicillin in 1928 and its subsequent commercial production by the 1940s unleashed the antibiotic era, effectively supplanting phage therapy.

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