Bacteria-killer viruses can fight infection

A doctoral-level study conducted by a researcher in the Department of Biotechnology, Gulbarga University, has concluded that bacteriophage therapy is a better and effective method to treat immuno-compromised animals suffering from bacterial infection.

A phage is a virus that kills bacteria by multiplying inside the bacteria causing it to burst. The study has been accepted by Research in Microbiology, an international journal. 

Raju Sungar, who conducted the study ‘Bacteriophage therapy for Staphylococcus aureus infections in Diabetic mice’, said the experiments were designed as a model for acute human infections in which antibiotics are no longer effective and a single course of phage treatment might improve the patient’s survival. 

Studies show that Ganga river has bacteriophage. Sungar said that the first bacteriophage was observed in Ganga river in 1896, when a British scientist found presence of certain microbe that destroyed bacteria. However, the microbe were identified as phage in 1920s.     

Phage for diabetes
While bacteriophage therapy is an old concept, Sungar wanted to apply it on models of immuno-compromised patients prone to bacterial infection. “Diabetic people are more prone to bacterial infection because their weakened immune system. My study focused on staphylococcus aureus, one of the major pathogen found in diabetes,” said Sungar, a research associate in Department of microbiology and Cell biology in IISc. 

When a diabetic suffered from the bacterial infection, prolonged antibiotic treatment was required, which was not even 100 per cent effective. Hence, some batches of mice were given streptozotocin, a chemical that stops insulin production in the body, causing diabetes, and some were left alone. Next, the mice were infected with staphylococcus aureus, collected from clinical samples arranged by Sungar’s co-supervisor Dr S A Patil from neuro microbiology department, Nimhans.

Sungar then isolated the virus that would specifically kill staphylococcus aureus with help from Bangalore-based Gangagen Biotechnology,  the only research company working on bacteriophage therapy in the country.     

“One set of diabetic and non-diabetic mice were given bacteriophage, while another was treated with antibiotics. The experiment concluded two things – first, more diabetic mice died of the bacterial infection than non-diabetic mice and second, diabetic mice under antibiotic treatment showed slow progress compared to bacteriophage therapy,” he said.

(Published in Deccan Herald on 27th August, 2010)


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