Phage Therapy: A Viable Solution to Antimicrobial Resistance?
Bacteria had formerly been one of humanity’s longest-standing threats since the dawn of time. Only in the past century or so had humans finally conquered the microscopic world by developing a highly effective and easily accessible method to deter bacterial ailments: antibiotics. Antibiotics became revolutionary; people no longer had to suffer from potentially lethal diseases such as E. Coli, Salmonella, and Tuberculosis. However, bacteria can adapt to different threats and environments very quickly, and antibiotics haven’t been exempt. In fact, bacteria’s increasing resistance to antibiotic treatments is becoming a significant issue, as reported by the CDC. To combat this rising issue, researchers are attempting to find new, viable solutions to prevent further bacterial ailments, one of which is bacteriophage therapy.
Bacteriophages are biological entities comprised of nucleic acids and are encompassed by protein structures that infect specified bacteria and essentially destroy them. They perform this function by attaching themselves to the outer cell walls of a bacterium and compelling it to produce its own viral components instead of the host’s bacterial ones. Consequently, the infected bacterium then produces more bacteriophages which begin the process all over again, leaving the bacterium to eventually die without reproducing.
Researchers have turned towards potentially utilizing these viruses because they are very effective in reducing bacteria from spreading. Should a pharmaceutical method be developed using bacteriophages to manage and inhibit bacterial ailments, the issue of antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics may potentially be remedied, if at least temporarily. Then, bacterial ailments may once again be an issue of the past.
However, several concerns about the practice of using phage therapy have been considered, most notably about the effectiveness of bacteriophages. Since these viruses are lethal against bacterial populations, phage therapy risks the peril of potentially decimating necessary bacteria for the human body as well. What may be another way to treat bacterial infections may also risk entirely destroying an individual’s body from the inside. Yet, it has been observed that phages solely attack bacteria, and therefore do not pose a risk to human cells, and mention that these viruses are additionally quite finicky when it comes to targeting bacteria, as in, each phage species is adapted to attack only one specific strain of bacteria. Thus, it may also be possible to only use, or potentially develop, specific phages to attack specific bacteria, and leave the rest of the microbial world unscathed.
Overall, bacteriophages are being considered to be a viable solution to the rise of antimicrobial resistance to modern medicine, though more research is required to fully understand the behavior of these viruses. Should phage therapy become a beneficial treatment for many individuals worldwide, they have the power to become superheroes in the battle against these resistant superbugs.