Bacteriophages: A Solution to Antimicrobial Resistance?

By Amy Bonsall

One of the most daunting challenges in medicine is the increase in antimicrobial resistance, threatening to unravel years of scientific progress. Bacteria have evolved to resist the once-reliable therapies researched by an uncountable number of academics worldwide. The overuse and misuse of antimicrobial treatments has contributed to the development and rate of resistance within the environment.

Resistant infections are much more challenging to treat, which leads to higher mortality rates and prolonged illnesses. Common infections that were once easily managed with antibiotics now pose a greater threat to public health. This leads to increased healthcare costs, longer stays in hospital, and lessened productivity due to long-term illnesses. Alongside this, routine medical procedures, surgeries, and organ transplantations become infinitely riskier without reliable antibiotics; previously manageable infections become life-threatening complications. This is a global health issue. The ease of international travel means that resistant genes can be transported worldwide.

Bacteriophages are viruses that aim to infect bacteria. Their structure remains consistent, comprising of a protein coat (capsid) around genetic material (DNA or RNA), and some also possess a tail structure to aid in attachment to their host cell. The phages that may have a role as an antibacterial, are lytic phages. These infect bacterial cells and replicate within them until the host cell bursts, releasing new phages into the environment.

Phage therapy has gained attention as a potential alternative, or complementary therapy for traditional antibiotics. Phages target different strains of bacteria which allows them to be tailored to different infections, a type of precision that antibiotics lack.

Bacteriophages could also be employed in the food industry to combat contamination with harmful bacteria, to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. There is also exciting research into their use as diagnostic tools for the rapid detection of bacterial infections. Their specificity allows for the development of sensitive and precise diagnostic assays.

While bacteriophages hold huge amounts of promise, challenges such as host specificity, phage-resistance development, and protocol standardization are all areas that need to be explored and fully understood prior to the implementation of phages as a therapeutic agent.

Phages provide a glimpse into innovative solutions for antimicrobial resistant infections and the future seems bright with the continued exploration of their therapeutic potential. There is a resurgence of interest in phage-based solutions as science advances and our ability to investigate them improves.


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