In 1928 medicine took a major step forward when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. While conducting experiments involving the culturing of bacteria, he noticed that there was a small amount of mold in one of his petri dishes. He observed that the bacteria in the dish containing the mold did not grow the way that the other bacteria in the other dishes did.
With this momentous and accidental discovery, the modern age of antibiotics was born. With access to antibiotics, doctors could suddenly eradicate infections that would normally prove fatal. Antibiotics were from all appearances a wonder drug that would save countless lives and help modern medicine to seemingly get the upper hand against bacteria causing diseases.
Antibiotic resistance represents a new threat
Unfortunately, over time a problem began to arise with the use of antibiotics, and that problem was antibiotic resistance. With antibiotics being overused for medical and agricultural purposes it shouldn't be surprising that bacteria would evolve and develop resistance. Once antibiotic resistance was recognized, a push began to find ways to combat the problem.
Regrettably, instead of cutting back on antibiotic use, an approach was decided upon where new antibiotics would be developed. For a time this was effective, but that time appears to be coming to an end. There are now several strains of bacteria that are resistant to all known antibiotics. This is especially troubling because these resistant bacteria are likely to pass on this resistance to other forms of bacteria. If this happens, something as simple as strep throat can be a life threatening infection.
Viral phage therapy offers hope
While the prospect of antibiotic resistant bacteria is terrifying, there is hope. Phage therapy is a type of treatment for infections that involves the use of bacteriophages, which are viruses that feed on bacteria. Phage therapy has actually been known for around a century, but due to the use of antibiotics it did not gain the widespread recognition that it should have. What makes phage therapy so intriguing is the fact that it offers an alternative way to treat the bacteria that are now resistant to antibiotics.
Unfortunately, there remain many hurdles to overcome before phage therapy is able to be used on a more widespread basis. Since you cannot patent living organisms, which bacteriophages are, there is little incentive for drug companies to research and develop them.
Phage therapy is also more costly since it requires a specialized course of treatment based on each patient. While there are challenges to overcome, phage therapy offers a glimmer of hope in a world where bacterial infections are suddenly becoming a major threat once more.