Virulent virus strains have claimed several lives through epidemics. The Covid-19 pandemic was also led by a contagious SARs-CoV-2 virus strain that turned the world upside down and affected everyone’s life one way or another. But viruses are not all bad. They can be used as a first-line defense against more dangerous bacterial infections.
The Georgian capital of Tbilisi pioneered a groundbreaking way to tackle the challenge of growing antimicrobial resistance in the population, especially bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics through ‘friendly’ viruses.
Bacteriophages or bacteria-eating viruses are now being used in some of the most difficult medical cases. Phagotherapy is used in cases where pathogens have developed resistance to antibiotics. These virus-eating bacteria have been known for ages but mostly forgotten since the advent of antibiotics in the 1980s.
What happened to the developer of phages
Georgian scientist Giorgi Eliava did the most to develop phages but was executed by Stalin’s henchman and head of secret police, Lavrentiy Beria in 1937. The motive is still a mystery but sources say Eliava who worked in Pasteur Institute in Paris with French Canadian microbiologist Felix d ‘Herelle had persuaded Stalin to invite him to Tbilisi in 1934 and talk about the progress of his research which was cut short by Eliava’s death.
With the World Health organization concerned about antimicrobial resistance and the threat of superbugs killing up to 10 million people worldwide within three decades, phages are making a comeback because of their ability to destroy bacteria while leaving human cells intact.
Benefits of phages-based medicines
Scientists believe phageotherapy can completely replace antibiotics, plus they are affordable and have no side effects like damaging organs or good health.
Eliava Institute physician Lia Nadareishvili said that six standard wide spectrum phages are being developed that can heal multiple infectious diseases. A study is going on in finding the phages that are capable of killing the particular bacterial strain. In some 10% to 15% of patients, however, standard phages do not work, she said.
Tailored phages can be found. in sewage or polluted water or soil or at the institute’s massive collection. The institute can even “train” phages so that “they can kill more and more different harmful bacteria.”
Phages being used for treatment
Phaegotherapy was used on a 34-year-old American mechanical engineer suffering from a chronic bacterial disease for six years and he is feeling better over two weeks of treatment at the institute.
Several patients arrive in Georgia for the last resort treatment after having tried all. Other kinds of treatment techniques in the US But, more clinical studies are needed so that phagotherapy can be more widely approved, Kutateladze argued.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also authorized a clinical study on the use of bacteriophages to cure secondary infections in COVID-19 patients.
Bacteriophages have other utilities as well. They can be used in agricultural activities to protect crops, stop food from going stale, and can even counter biological weapons or combat bioterrorism. Canadian researchers are studying the use of phages in countering anthrax attacks in crowded places.