Arlene Anora, 20, fears catching cold or becoming ill since it could disrupt her everyday routine. However, she believes that diseases can be prevented with the use of medicines—antibiotics, being the commonly used medical drug around the world. Arlene is one of more than 8 million Filipinos that use antibiotics as a cure for their ailments.
However, as the time goes by, our antibiotic race has gone slacking. It took years for scientists to make new antibiotics that could kill worsening diseases. Such mishaps enabled the bacteria to be antibiotic resistant. The diseases evolved in such a way that they could survive even with the host taking multiple medicines and the like. This would explain why even after few days of taking paracetamol or nasal decongestants such as Phenylephrine, your fever or cold is still there. This antimicrobial resistance (AMR) gave rise to “superbugs” which is predicted to kill more people than cancer does by 2050. This encouraged the ASEAN countries to upgrade against AMR, but the question remains: how?
Bacteriophage might be a promising solution to bacterial diseases. Bacteriophage (phage for short) was discovered by Frederick Twort in 1915 and Félix d’Herelle in 1917. These are by far the world’s deadliest being on the planet, killing trillions every single day while we don’t even notice. It is a type of virus, having 20 faces with 30 edges. Contained inside is their genetic information for reproduction and a tail with fiber legs. This virus is everywhere that there are millions of them even in your hands right now. While they are responsible for a genocide every day, you may consider yourself lucky as they only kill bacteria.
How can it help?
Phages have been the natural rivals of bacteria for billions of years. You may be wondering how sure are we that phages won’t kill good bacteria which are essential for the human body? Phages are specialized killers. One species of phages is assigned to only one bacteria and some of its close relatives. Meaning, this will not kill any beneficial microbes in your body unlike antibiotics that kill both good and bad bacteria. Also, biofilms—the material used by bacteria to become resistant in antibiotics are easily digested by phages and with a syringe-like tail. It injects their DNA to take over the bacteria and eventually kills it once the reproduction phase is complete. Antibiotics kill one specific process of bacteria that makes it vulnerable, whereas phages actively kills it, making it more effective.
Moreover, human cells are completely harmless as studies show that our cells are immune to phages because of its unique genetic information too complex for phages, even after billions of years of evolution.
Efficacy of Phages
Phage therapy gave birth to a new hope in a battle against bacteria. In 2015, Thomas L. Patterson, got infected with Acinetobacter baumanii, a multi-high resistant bacteria after a thanksgiving celebration in Egypt. After 100 days of antibiotic treatment, he fell into a coma. Roberta L. DeBiasi, M.D., MS, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Health System proposed to inject bacteriophage in the body to heal the patient. Three days after phages were injected in Patterson’s body, he woke from his coma. This case is one of the successful phage therapies around the world, which shows its efficacy. Various international medical institutions and research centers have invested millions in developing phages to become pharmaceutically available. Likewise in 2017, the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) announced that a two-year project will be launched to examine the diversity of bacteriophages and explore the potential of phages as bio-pesticides. This is after Europe and America used bacteriophages against food-borne pathogens as they were regarded as medically safe.
The rising threat of AMR is inevitable for mankind and medical breakthroughs aren’t enough to battle the risk of antibiotic resistance. Bacteriophages are now gaining positive feedback as a promising alternative to antibiotic. This leads man to battle more deadly diseases with the help of the deadliest being on the planet.