Is Phage Therapy the Best Hope for Cystic Fibrosis Patients That Can’t be Treated With Antibiotics?

According to a story from Buzzfeed News, Paige Rogers was 21 years old when she was admitted to the hospital. She was having trouble breathing because of cystic fibrosis. Over the next 25 days, her condition worsened and she had to be placed on a ventilator to stay alive. The antibiotics which she had relied on to fight off lung infections were no longer working.

About Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a type of genetic disorder which can have impacts throughout the body, but it is most characterized by the build up of abnormally thick, sticky mucus in the lungs. This mucus becomes a fertile breeding ground and habitat for potentially infectious bacteria. Many patients must take antibiotics for much of their lives. This disorder is caused by mutations of the CFTR gene. Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include progressive decline in lung function, lung and sinus infections, coughing up mucus, fatty stool, poor growth, infertility in males, clubbed digits, and digestive problems. Treatment includes antibiotics and medications or procedures intended to maintain lung function. Lung transplant is an option when lung function declines severely. Life expectancy ranges into the 40s and 50s with good care. To learn more about cystic fibrosis, click here.

A New Treatment?

The bacteria that populated Paige’s lungs had grown immune to antibiotics. She was released from the hospital with little hope that she would survive for long. However, her father got in touch with Benjamin Chan, a scientist from Yale who was one of very few in the US who had been using a possible alternative to antibiotics: phage therapy.

Phage Therapy

Phage therapy involves the use of live viruses to kill bacteria. While it has not yet gained complete widespread medical acceptance, it is commonly used in some parts of Eastern Europe. It only required a small dose of viruses and causes very few side effects. This is a highly precise therapy in which the virus being used must be matched with the target bacteria.

After a month of searching, Benjamin found a phage virus that matched Paige’s infection. Paige received the phage by breathing in a mist for at least 20 minutes per day. Ten days after receiving her first dose, there appeared to be a response. The therapy restored Paige’s lung function and she is currently living a much more normal life free of hospital visits. Hopefully, more research involving this type of treatment will be conducted in the future.

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