A technique to counter infections last used in the 1930s could be used to treat wounded soldiers attacked by a superbug.
Bacteriophage therapy uses otherwise harmless biological organisms to target a bacterium’s natural vulnerabilities, while leaving other cells untouched. A PhD student from the University of Lincoln hopes to use this principle to attack the deadly superbug Acinetobacter baumannii.
“Bacteriophage therapy is not a new idea and has already been used successfully. However there are currently no bacteriophage treatments available for Acinetobacter baumannii, and very few bacteriophage identified which infect clinical strains,” said Philip Skipper, from the School of Life Sciences.
“The first part of the research is to isolate bacteriophage from the environment, which can be used to increase the number of treatment options.”
Skipper is hoping to find a bacteriophage that will attack Acinetobacter baumannii – dubbed Iraqibacter because of the enormous problems it caused the military in Iraq – while leaving other cells unharmed.
The second stage of the research is to find ways to prevent the superbug developing resistance to treatment. Skipper will look at how the bacteria become resistant to treatments in the first place, and then using antibiotics and some of the bacteriophage discovered in the first stage of research he will investigate ways of blocking the development of resistance.
“Global concern of an impending crisis with few new antibiotics in the pipeline has caused a re-awakening of interest in alternatives to antibiotics with bacteriophage therapy, last used worldwide in the 1930s, as an attractive measure to counter infections,” said research supervisor Dr Ron Dixon.
“We are hoping that our new research will firmly establish bacteriophages as ‘friendly’ viruses capable of eradicating antibiotic resistant pathogens without harming the patient and as a useful tool to investigate pathogens such as Acinetobacter.”
Acinetobacter baumannii has been included in the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s top 10 most dangerous pathogens for the last decade – it causes wound infections, catheter infections and a form of pneumonia. Away from the battlefield, patients are unlikely to suffer from it unless they are very ill and in hospital. However, if they develop an Acinetobacter infection, little can be done since it is resistant to most antibiotics.