Biotech Updates

Viruses Genetically Engineered to Kill Bacteria Rescue Girl with Antibiotic-Resistant Infection

May 15, 2019

Seventeen-year-old Isabelle Carnell has battled a drug-resistant infection of Mycobacterium abscessus for half her life. In 2017, a week after a double lung transplant, the incision wound turned bright red and was rapidly spreading, erupting in weeping sores and swollen nodules across her frail body.

Helen Spencer, Carnell's physician decided to take a gamble on what seemed like a far-fetched idea: phages, viruses that can destroy bacteria and have a long—if checkered—history as medical treatments. Spencer collaborated with leading phage researchers, who concocted a cocktail of the first genetically engineered (GE) phages ever used as a treatment—and the first directed at a Mycobacterium, a genus that includes tuberculosis (TB). Six months after the tailor-made phage infusions, Isabelle's wounds healed and her condition improved with no serious side effects.

Spencer's team worked with phage researcher Graham Hatfull of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Hatfull and his team curate a collection of more than 15,000 phages, one of the world's largest. The team spent three months searching for phages that could kill M. abscessus isolated from Isabelle's wounds and sputum and found three.

For more details, read the news article in Science.