CH391L/S13/Phage Therapy

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Introduction to Phage Therapy

Phage therapy is the use of viruses to treat bacterial infections. Application of bacteriophages to a bacterial infection will result in the phage infecting, replicating, and then destroying their bacterial hosts. The newly synthesized phage can then go on to infect other bacteria, resulting in the rapid removal of the infection. The use of phages to treat bacterial infections has recieved new attention due to the appearance of strains of previously treatable pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.


The discovery of a heat-labile, bacteria-killing substance that could pass through extremely small filters was discovered several times:

Year Discoverer, microbe targeted by phage
1896 Hankin, British bacteriologist working on Vibrio cholerae
1898 Gamaleya, Russian, Bacillus subtilis
1915 Twort, British, Staphylococcus
1917 d'Herelle, French-Canadian, Shigella. Coined the term "bacteriophage".

The first therapeutic usage of phage was in 1919, to treat a child with severe dysentery. In a classic case of old-school science, the lead researchers (which included d'Herelle) drank portions of the bacteriophage preparation the day before treating the child, to check the treatment's safety in humans. The child fully recovered within a few days, and further tests confirmed the result.

In the 1930s and 1940s, bacteriophage preparations were developed and sold by L'Oréal and the Eli Lilly Company. The development and mass production of antibiotics in the late 1940s halted research into phage therapy in the West, due to the superior efficacy and simplicity of antibiotics.

Current Applications



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