TThe rise of superbugs is spurring research into alternative ways of fighting resistant bacteria that cause serious infections. One such avenue is a revival of an old idea – using viruses to infect and eliminate bacteria.
Bacteriophages – or “phages” – are viruses that infect bacteria. Through a long history of co-evolution with bacteria, they have evolved into highly effective “professional killers” of the bugs.
Back in the days when drugs were first developed as a way to treat bacterial infections, scientists were already thinking about using phages to fight bacteria, but then put the idea to one side as antibiotics became successful.
Now, decades later – as we face the daunting prospect of a post-antibiotic era – the idea of using phages or viruses to kill bacteria is receiving attention again.
A good example is a new study… intriguing fact about the virus the team studied – a phage called EFDG1 – is that they isolated it from Jerusalem sewage.
The study shows that EFDG1 could be an effective way to kill a very stubborn, drug-resistant bacterium called Enterococcus faecalis that can sometimes cause infections following dental procedures esp root canal treatment.
E. faecalis is a bacterium found in the human gastrointestinal tract. It is a dangerous pathogen that causes endocarditis (potentially fatal heart infection), bacteremia (harmful bacteria in the bloodstream) and other serious infections, such as urinary tract infection, meningitis and – as in the subject of this study – post-treatment root canal infection.
One of the things that makes E. faecalis difficult to treat is because it forms a biofilm – where the bacterial cells cluster and stick to surfaces by excreting a slimy, glue-like substance.
E. faecalis is often recovered from persistent infections associated with root canal treatments, and infection can persist in up to a third of root canals. This high rate of infection limits the choice of treatment options, so researchers are keen to find ways to eliminate E. faecalis, especially when in biofilm form.
The phage almost entirely eradicated E. faecalis in liquid culture and biofilm
For their study, the team tested how well EFDG1 killed E. faecalis cells – both in a liquid culture and in biofilm form. They already knew the phage was capable of infecting the V583 strain of E. faecalis, which is resistant to vancomycin, the most effective antibiotic against the bacterium.
The tests showed EFDG1 almost entirely eradicated E. faecalis – both in liquid culture and biofilm form.
The team also showed EFDG1 was highly effective at eliminating E. faecalis in tissue examples of root canal infection, suggesting that phage therapy using EFDG1 might be an effective way to prevent E. faecalis infection following root canal procedures.
Using transmission electron microscopy and whole genome sequencing, the team also determined that the EFDG1 phage belongs to a subfamily of the Myoviridae phages, which may offer other candidates for treating bacterial infections…read more
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