Scientists Hunt for a Killer Virus
November 10, 2017 2:17 PM   Subscribe

The word from the doctors came early this week: They had tried one cocktail of antibiotics after another, but Mallory Smith’s fever and chill and chest rattle were only getting worse. They were out of options. Her father, though, had an idea. He wanted to infect Mallory with a virus — one carefully selected to kill the bacteria that had colonized her lungs. It was hardly foolproof, and it would require special emergency approval from the federal government, but it might just do what the antibiotics couldn’t.
posted by Bella Donna (12 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, you have a problem with rabbits in your garden? Just drop a couple dozen pythons in there, problem solved.
posted by Literaryhero at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2017

(Mefi's own Blasdelb has made some great comments and posts about phages, if you want to really dig into the background of these fascinating living-ish things.)
posted by clawsoon at 2:45 PM on November 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

(If you don't want to dig through all of Blasdelb's posts and comments, here is a paper Blasdelb co-authored on the 90-year history of phage treatment of human diseases. It was big in the Soviet Union for a while, especially in Georgia. It's fascinating stuff.)
posted by clawsoon at 2:53 PM on November 10, 2017 [19 favorites]

Seconding clawsoon's recommendation of the Blasdelb et al paper (I've cited it professionally/academically!) and generally all things Blasdelb regarding bacteriophages. The link presents phage therapy as this far out, crazy-bananas novel idea, but using phages for infections is basically as old as antibiotics and represents an interesting parallel path of medical history.
posted by Panjandrum at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Thanks for the tips! I know nuthin about this stuff except that it fascinates me.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:03 PM on November 10, 2017

Bacteriophages may save our antibiotic resistant butts. But that's assuming we don't get too cocky with them, IMO. Just don't let the meat industry know about them.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:53 PM on November 10, 2017

More mouse bites!
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 6:33 PM on November 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

So the article was written before they actually found any phages that might help Mallory Smith? It's strange to see a story written in the present tense like that.

Well, I hope they find the right phages and the treatment is successful!
posted by Kevin Street at 10:39 PM on November 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Yes, totally weird that it's written as a success story and we have no idea yet how the story ends.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:00 AM on November 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

How did no one memail me about this post! I know many of the biologists involved, actually got the call for phages when it came out though didn't have any myself, and am available to answer any phage questions.
BlueHorse: "Bacteriophages may save our antibiotic resistant butts. But that's assuming we don't get too cocky with them, IMO. Just don't let the meat industry know about them."
The meat industry absolutely knows about phages and has been very interested for the better part of a decade. I've written here about my complicated feelings related to working on a project for the local Cattlemen's Beef Association a long time ago. A few years ago an awful lot of money was invested into Omnilytics and its promise to make a hide wash that incorporated phage to decontaminate cattle on their way into slaughter that didn't seem to go anywhere, but now seems to be still going with Chinese owners and a China focused business model. Any ready to eat meat that you might buy from a supermarket is also not unlikely to contain phages active against Listeria to extend the safe shelf-life.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:31 AM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sadly, Mallory Smith passed away on November 15.

Medium collects some of Mallory's writing; the most recent piece is from July 17, arguing against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act: When your president would prefer you dead

posted by nicebookrack at 11:28 AM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Looking back at this effort, it is pretty obscene that Steffanie Strathdee had to turn to twitter and global media to find researchers with phages that could plausibly be used for therapy. There is a now a phage directory being set up in her honor to help physicians, who see phages as a possibly useful tool for a patient, to get in touch with researchers with access to phages. Right now I'm bringing Phages for Human Applications Group Europe (P.H.A.G.E.) into it.

Really, I'm finding it pretty astonishing just how excited so many physicians are about phage therapy, and now as a community we are beginning to be really ready for this interest. There are relatively large banks of well characterized phages both at the DSMZ in Germany and the Navy in the US, there are centers capable of purifying phages to be non-pyrogenic enough for human and even intravenous use at the Queen Astrid in Brussels and in DC, and the FDA is now well set up to give IND approval for phages. Some time this month the Belgian regulatory apparatus is expected to give final approval for a monograph on producing phages as an Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient to be compounded by pharmacists on a routine basis, and the French regulatory apparatus is expected to quickly adopt it.

In many ways the field has been stuck by the expectation that companies produce successful Phase III trials before anyone takes us seriously, but before that could happen there has been a need for physicians to develop protocols worth testing and get experience with them, which is why I'm finding this interest particularly exciting.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:01 AM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

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