How are bacteriophages used in medicine

Phage therapy: fighting bacteria with viruses

Status: 11.06.2019 11:05 a.m. | archive
Phages are special viruses that can destroy bacteria.

More and more bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics that have worked well for years. In the fight against such multi-resistant germs, doctors in the former Eastern Bloc countries have been using viruses, so-called bacteriophages, for a long time. Research is also gaining in importance in Germany.

Phages make viruses burst

Phages destroy bacteria - they are different viruses, each specializing in a certain bacterium. If a phage hits "its" bacterium, it attaches itself to its cell wall and injects its DNA. At the command of the phage DNA, the bacterial cells produce new phages. After all, there are so many of these special viruses in the bacterium that it bursts and releases the new phages. These in turn attack other bacteria - until all bacteria are finally destroyed. Then the viruses also disappear because they no longer have a host.

In order to use phages against an infection, the bacteria involved are first identified and multiplied in order to then confront them with various phages. If one of these phages attacks the bacteria in the laboratory, it is injected into the infected tissue.

Researchers filter phages out of the water

Phages cavort wherever bacteria are: in the environment, on our body and, above all, in sewage. The water is filtered to isolate phages. They are then multiplied and their effectiveness against bacteria is tested.

In order to use the viruses as drugs, they have to be tested in studies. Since there are many multi-resistant bacteria and each phage is only effective against one specific bacterium, many expensive and time-consuming studies are required.

Phage therapy is still rare in Germany

The Leibniz Institute in Braunschweig has brought together the largest collection of phages in Germany. Currently, 673 phages are already stored there for research purposes. In Germany, phage therapy has so far only been used in exceptional cases - as an individual healing attempt when all other measures have failed. Sick people bear the costs and the doctor the risk of using unapproved medication.

Experts on the subject

Dr. Evgenii Rubalskii, visiting doctor
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Kühn, senior physician
Clinic for Heart, Thoracic, Transplant and Vascular Surgery (HTTG)
Hannover Medical School
Carl-Neuberg-Strasse 1
30625 Hanover

Dr. Christine Rohde, microbiologist
Leibniz Institute DSMZ - German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH
Inhoffenstrasse 7b
38124 Braunschweig

additional Information
Information on the use of bacteriophages

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