Published on 30.10.2019

A small victory in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

A team of researchers has succeeded in completely eradicating antibiotic-resistant bacteria in one patient by using bacteriophage viruses. This is a first in the fight against the scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The proliferation of antibiotic-resistant infections is one of the major challenges of the 21st century.  Bacteria are becoming resistant to a widening range of antibiotics, and medicine is struggling to develop effective treatments. The World Health Organization estimates that resistant bacteria could account for up to 10 million deaths per year worldwide by 2050. Researchers are thus exploring new possible therapies.

One of these therapies involves the use of a type of virus called bacteriophage, literally "bacteria eater".  These bacteriophages are harder to produce and use than antibiotics, but they can be used to tackle multi-resistant infections.

A team led by Dr Laurent Poirel and Professor Patrice Nordmann at the University of Fribourg, in collaboration with teams in Italy and the Republic of Georgia, administered bacteriophage viruses to a 58-year-old patient with recurrent infections, due to a particularly resistant strain of bacteria in her digestive system. The team showed that the treatment succeeded in completely eradicating the bacteria from the patient’s body. This has demonstrated the success of bacteriophage treatment in a case where various types of antibiotics had failed to eradicate the bacteria.

"To the best of our knowledge this is the first time that bacteriophages have been used not only to treat an infection, but to completely eradicate the responsible bacteria," explains Dr. Poirel. "As this is an individual case, we cannot draw general conclusions at this stage. But this very promising result should inspire further studies. »

Since 2017, the University of Fribourg has hosted the NARA National Reference Centre, set up by the Swiss Confederation to identify new forms of antibiotic resistance. "We are working on the identification of antibiotic resistance mechanisms, on the genetic mechanisms responsible for the transmission of these resistance genes, as well as on the development of diagnostic tests to identify these resistance mechanisms," explains Dr. Poirel. "This result adds a new and innovative therapeutic approach to our toolbox. »

Links :

Article - Eradication of a multi-drug resistant, carbapenemase-producing Klebsiella pneumoniae isolate following oral and intra-rectal therapy with a custom-made, lytic bacteriophage preparation. Corbellino et al. 2019

NARA: Centre national de référence pour la détection précoce des résistances émergentes aux antibiotiques