Weird Medicine

Genetically Modified Virus Fights Off Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug

A recent study revealed that scientists created genetically modified viruses that treated a patient from an antibiotic-resistant infection. The patient suffered the condition after undergoing a lung transplant and has been completely cured after undergoing the new treatment.

According to National Public Radio, Isabelle Carnell-Holdaway was administered with an experimental treatment involving genetically modified viruses that significantly improved her antibiotic-resistant infection. She suffered a superbug infection after she underwent a lung transplant. Doctors almost lost all hope but the experimental treatment allowed her to live a near-normal life.

A study published in the journal Nature Medicine revealed her condition before and after treatment. The surgery exposed her to a preexisting chronic infection that spread throughout her body. The superbug infected her liver, lungs and surgical wound which also adversely affected her skin. Doctors tried other treatments but failed to cure her of the condition until the genetically modified phages experimental treatment was considered.

Graham Hatfull, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in phage research, luckily identified one phage that appeared to kill the bacterium Mycobacterium abecessus, the superbug that caused Isabelle’s infection.

Although the experimental treatment had worked on her, the doctors and scientists did not draw a conclusion that the same procedure can be a success when used on other patients.

Steffanie Strathdee, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, claimed that the use of genetically modified phages was a first in history. It was, however, highlighted that the medical use of these organisms require further studies before the treatment can be recommended by health professionals.

The treatment was considered a last option since there is always an associated risk in introducing an organism to someone’s body. It could adversely affect immune system. Fortunately, the genetically modified virus was able to combat the superbug that infected the patient. At present, she has not been completely cured, but the virus killed enough bacteria to keep her alive.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) prevents the body from adapting to certain measures taken against and treatment of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. As per the World Health Organization, it occurs when these microorganisms adapt to antimicrobial drugs and resist their efficacy. AMR microorganisms are often referred to as superbugs. They develop AMR through genetic changes that occur over time and this is usually caused by overuse or misuse of antibiotics.