Life-saving designer ‘NINJA virus’ hailed as medical breakthrough in curing infection
A VIRUS cocktail designed to seek and destroy bacteria has cleared a 15-year-old lung transplant patient of an antibiotic-resistant infection, in a potential world-breakthrough.
The young girl, who has cystic fibrosis — a genetic condition which causes mucus to build up in the lungs — had received a life-saving double lung transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
Weeks after the surgery, doctors spotted telltale signs of an infection, including bumps poking through her skin and redness around the incision sites.
Antibiotics could not halt the spread of the antibiotic-resistant infection which had reached her liver — and so in a world-first, doctors turned to bacteria-slaying virus strains, known as bacteriophages, or phages for short.
Students had faithfully collected samples of phages over three decades and the collection filled 15,000 vials.
The zoo of viruses had been collected from thousands of locations all over the world.
Astoundingly, just three phages — named Muddy, ZoeJ, and BPs — were found to be able to infect the girl’s bacteria.
Muddy was a natural born killer, but ZoeJ and BPs had to be genetically modified to burst through the bacterium once inside, killing it.
The trio of viruses were then administered to the youngster through an IV drip twice daily — with her receiving a billion phages per dose.
Prof Hatfull said: ”The idea is to use bacteriophages as antibiotics — as something we could use to kill bacteria that cause infection.”
Amazingly, in six months, nearly all of the girl's skin nodules disappeared, her surgical wound began closing, and her liver function improved.
Discussing the incredible result, Prof Hatfull said: ”We're sort of in uncharted territory.”
The scientist never imagined his quirky collection, dubbed the SEA-PHAGES program, would one day save a life.
He said: ”I had a sense that this collection was enormously powerful for addressing all sorts of questions in biology.
“But we didn't think we'd ever get to a point of using these phages therapeutically."
There is now hope that bacteriophages could be adapted to combat deadly tuberculosis, a relative of the Mycobacterium which had infected the teenage transplant patient.
The report, Engineered bacteriophages for treatment of a patient with a disseminated drug-resistant Mycobacterium abscessus, was published in the journal Nature Medicine on May 8, 2019.