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Understanding antibiotic resistance
Understanding antibiotic resistance

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2.1 Phage therapy

Phage therapy to treat bacterial infections exploits the bactericidal lysis step of bacteriophage infection to kill bacteria. It was first developed more than 90 years ago by researchers in the former Soviet Union and is routinely used to treat chronic infections in former Soviet states such as Georgia. In the next activity, you will look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this treatment.

Activity 3 The advantages and disadvantages of phage therapy

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Listen to the following interview with Martha Clokie, a phage researcher, who discusses the advantages and disadvantages of phage therapy. While you are listening, note down any advantages and disadvantages of phage therapy in Table 1 below. You may also like to think about any ways in which phage therapy is similar to and different from antibiotic treatment.

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Audio 1 Interview with Martha Clokie on phage therapy.
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Advantages Disadvantages
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Similarities to antibiotic treatment Differences from antibiotic treatment
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Discussion

Advantages Disadvantages
Resistance is less likely to develop (bacteria that are resistant to phage therapy are also often less virulent).
  • Require more information about the bacteria causing the infection because they are often very specific for a particular bacterial types
  • More difficult to make than antibiotics
  • No regulatory pathway and very few clinical trials in the UK or the west
Similarities to antibiotic treatment Differences from antibiotic treatment
  • Bactericidal
  • Phage therapy is specific for each bacterial strain
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotic treatments can target many different pathogens

Historically, phage therapy has relied on identifying bacteriophages that target the infection-causing bacteria and then administering these bacteriophages to infect and lyse the bacterial cells. However, more recently, the isolation of phage-derived enzymes known as lysins has opened the possibility of developing new phage-based pharmaceuticals.