Teenage girl saved from fatal infection by genetically engineered virus

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bacteriophage attack cell
Transmission electron micrograph of multiple bacteriophages attached to a bacterial cell wall; the magnification is approximately 200,000. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

In the 21st century, medical advancements have reached greater heights and continue to achieve new feats and higher levels of research has enabled scientists to scale greater heights in the field of medicine.

A recent medical case at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London was a showcase of advances in medicinal science.  A pair of teenagers had cystic fibrosis, it is a disease where the lungs cannot clear mucus and disease-causing bacteria. They had undergone lung transplant and soon after which the infections that stayed in the body erupted from their sutures and soon these bacteria began to stain and spread over their skin through the skin tissues, doctors were giving antibiotics but they were of no use, as the body was not responding to them and the bacteria continued to spread. This is when phages came to rescue.

The history of phages dates back to the late 1990s where Graham Hatfull, a microbiologist of the University of Pittsburgh had the collection on bacteriophages which are viruses that prey solely on bacteria. These phages were stored at -80˚C in the university research lab. The boy, unfortunately, succumbed to his infection as it was too late however the girl was able to get the recovery and survived on the edge as her body parts were on the brink of organ failure. The infusion of the phage cocktail was first given to Isabelle in June 2018. Within 72 hours, her sores began to dry. After 6 weeks of intravenous treatment every 12 hours, the infection was all gone, soon she became back to her normal teenage life.

The two teenagers and their recovery became a case study which was published in the Journal Nature Medicine which represents the first ever use of engineered phages in a human patient. There is an emerging phase of synthetic biology which the disease researcher Eric Rubin of Harvard T.H School of Public Health commented that there is a need for rigorous testing of this before final implementation.

Phages typically kill a single bacterial strain which means if it works on one person it may not always work on the other person. Leading US universities have launched Phages research in their laboratories. There are claims that even if the treatment succeeds there are a lot of practical difficulties in the implementation. For further implementation, we also need to gauge the affordability factor of the treatment so people in all economic strata can afford this treatment.

 

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