Researchers use bacteria-eating viruses in the treatment of complex lung infections

“Given the complexity and great variation of these patients and their individual conditions, it is not possible to draw any broad conclusions, except that phage treatment of mycobacterial infections shows promise and should be explored further, especially for treating patients with few or no other good options,” said Constance Benson, MD, professor of medicine and global public health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“In phages, evolution has produced an effective killer of bacteria, one that offers enormous potential in the worldwide fight against antibiotic resistance. This paper is a glimpse of what might and can be. It starts with NTM infections, but the number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial species out there is large and growing. This is another step, an important one, in a fight that will likely never end,” adds co-author Robert Schooley, MD, professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at UC San Diego School of Medicine.


Background: Non-tuberculous Mycobacterium (NTM) infections, particularly Mycobacterium abscessus, are increasingly common among patients with cystic fibrosis and chronic bronchiectatic lung diseases. Treatment is challenging due to intrinsic antibiotic resistance. Bacteriophage therapy represents a potentially novel approach. Relatively few active lytic phages are available and there is great variation in phage susceptibilities among M. abscessus isolates, requiring personalized phage identification.

Methods: Mycobacterium isolates from 200 culture-positive patients with symptomatic disease were screened for phage susceptibilities. One or more lytic phages were identified for 55 isolates. Phages were administered intravenously, by aerosolization, or both to 20 patients on a compassionate use basis and patients were monitored for adverse reactions, clinical and microbiologic responses, the emergence of phage resistance, and phage neutralization in serum, sputum, or bronchoalveolar lavage fluid.

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