Phages can be used to treat multidrug-resistant infections when antibiotics are no longer effective. Bacterial resistant mechanisms that break down antibiotics can be bypassed by phages, which can directly kill the bacteria causing an infection.
IOI Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Willames Martins has been working on phages since 2018, when he switched focus from his PhD training in AMR epidemiology to set-up a phage dedicated laboratory in Brazil.
I knew I wanted to explore this emerging area of research because of its potential as a translatable intervention, I wanted to use my scientific training to take action and find solutions for global health threats.
Phages can be combined with antibiotics as a clinical therapy against drug-resistant bacteria. In some cases, phage therapy causes bacteria to adapt to combat this new threat and modify itself, modifications that result in restore the effectiveness of the antibiotic that was previously ineffective.
However, phages have multiple applications beyond this classic clinical use. Novel applications of these bacteria-killing viruses can be as decontaminants to disinfect surfaces; in animal feed, to kill bacteria and prevent infections in livestock, and for crops.
Phage research aligns with the IOI’s priorities of finding sustainable and actionable solutions to combat antibiotic resistance. Many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) do not have the financial resources to purchase new and expensive antibiotics, and the cost of new antibiotic discovery and development far too high. Phage therapy is a cheaper option for patients, hospitals and governments.
Phages are a real opportunity to rapidly address the high burden of AMR in LMICs in a multifaceted approach – with clinical treatments, decontaminants and even in animal feed. There is much more research to be done, but we are making progress in the right direction.
The IOI phage research aims to not only prove effective usage of phages to combat AMR, but to translate and implement the methodology in places that need it most – notably LMICs that will benefit from these comparatively inexpensive interventions.