Viruses found in the River Cam in Cambridge, famous as a haunt of students in their punts on long, lazy summer days, could become the next generation of antibiotics, according to scientists speaking today (Monday 3 September 2007) at the Society for General Microbiologys 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh, UK, which runs from 3-6 September 2007.
With antibiotics now over-prescribed for treatments of bacterial infections, and patients failing to complete their courses of treatment properly, many bacteria are able to pick up an entire array of antibiotic resistance genes easily by swapping genetic material with each other.
MRSA the multiple drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus - and newly emerging strains of the superbug Clostridium difficile have forced medical researchers to realise that an entirely different approach is required to combat these bacteria.
By using a virus that only attacks bacteria, called a phage and some phages only attack specific types of bacteria we can treat infections by targeting the exact strain of bacteria causing the disease, says Ana Toribio from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, UK. This is much more targeted than conventional antibiotic therapy.
The scientists used a close relative of Escherichia coli, the bacterium that commonly causes food poisoning and gastrointestinal infections in humans, called Citrobacter rodentium, which has exactly the same gastrointestinal effects in mice. They were able to treat the infected mice with a cocktail of phages obtained from the River Cam that target C. rodentium. At present they are optimizing the selection of the viruses by DNA analysis to utilise phage with different profiles.
Using phages rather than traditional broad-spectrum antibiotics, which essentially try to kill all bacteria they come across, is much better because they do not upset the normal microbial balance in the body, says Dr De
|Contact: Lucy Goodchild|
Society for General Microbiology