How viruses can help fight antibiotic-resistant infections

So-called phage therapy could be the next big thing

Viruses attacking bacteria.
Bacteriophages can target and kill specific bacteria
(Image credit: libre de droit / Getty Images)

First, the bad news: Thanks to repeated drug exposure, climate change and air pollution, some infections are developing resistance to antibiotics, a problem that could have global repercussions as diseases become stronger and more prevalent. The good news? Scientists are currently considering an unexpected solution. 

Researchers are looking to bacteriophages, or viruses that specifically target bacteria, to help cure infections. "Phages are the most abundant biological form on the planet," microbiologist Bryan Gibb, an associate professor of biological and chemical sciences, told News Medical. "These naturally occurring viruses are professional bacterial assassins." Experts in the medical field have become more invested in so-called phage therapy as antibiotics meanwhile become less effective. 

Phage therapy is currently considered experimental in the U.S. and “can only be used in emergency or compassionate use cases when few or no other treatments are available," Popular Science wrote. It can be administered "intravenously, orally, topically, or intranasally." Though it's considered safe, the efficacy of the treatment has received "mixed reviews." However, "this may reflect a poor match between the selected phage and the bacteria it was meant to target." With more research, phage therapy could become more widespread and potentially cheaper than antibiotics. "One of the biggest hurdles to making this treatment mainstream, aside from regulation, is a lack of awareness around phage therapy's life-saving potential," Maclean's Greg German explained. “Antimicrobial resistance is a battle that can't be won on one front. It's going to take every weapon we've got."

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