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Phage-Based Bug Buster

Several outlets are reporting on a cystic fibrosis patient with a serious, antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection who appeared to benefit from a treatment based on a handful of genetically engineered, bacteria-infecting viruses (called phages).

Wired describes two teenage patients at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital who had developed Mycobacterium abscessus infections following seemingly-successful lung transplant surgeries. The infection, which encompassed their skin and other tissues, was fatal in one patient. The other patient received an experimental treatment based on three M. abscessus-infecting phages that were genetically engineered with a "recombineering" approach developed in Graham Hatfull's University of Pittsburgh lab.

"Though she's still recovering, her skin lesions have mostly disappeared, and her liver and lungs are back from the brink of organ failure," Wired notes. 

Stat News provides additional details on the phages used for the treatment, described in a Nature Medicine study yesterday. One of the viruses, known as Muddy, was first found in a soil sample collected from under a rotting eggplant. Along with additional engineered phage, Muddy was used for the treatment because of its ability to infect M. abscessus.

Although the Statarticle cites the need for clinical trials on the phage-based approach for treating severe infections, The Wall Street Journal also notes that the early results suggest that genetically engineered phage approach offer "a potential path for countering the growing threat of bacteria resistant to antibiotics."