Using ‘phages’ to halt infections
Doctors have used a genetically engineered virus to save the life of a British teenager suffering from an infection that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics—offering new hope in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria. Isabelle Holdaway, now 17, was given a 1 percent chance of surviving a respiratory infection that had returned even after a double lung transplant. In a last-chance effort, her doctors teamed up with Graham Hatfull at the University of Pittsburgh to see if “phage” therapy—the use of a bacteria-killing virus to attack infections—might work. Unlike antibiotics, phages have to be carefully selected to match every strain of bacteria. Hatfull and his colleagues identified a phage that could neutralize the infection, then removed one of its genes to make it more efficient. Holdaway’s infection was brought under control six weeks after she started phage treatment. While she isn’t fully cured—she still receives daily infusions of the viral cocktail—her symptoms have been significantly reduced. Doctors hope the success will lead to more clinical trials for phage treatments.