Friday, December 10, 2010

Phage therapy - a secret we ignore at our peril

G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD, MCIC

If I suggested that a cure for the cholera outbreak in Haiti could be found in the same rivers thought to be responsible for the outbreak in the first place, most people would consider me crazy; however, 1896 the British bacteriologist, Ernest Hankin reported on the presence of marked antibacterial activity (against Vibrio cholerae) which he observed in the waters of the Ganges and Jumna rivers in India, and he suggested that an unidentified substance (which passed through fine porcelain filters and was heat labile) was responsible for this phenomenon and for limiting the spread of cholera epidemics. Several other scientists made similar observations; however, in 1917 the French-Canadian microbiologist, Felix D’Herelle, working at the Pasteur Institute, realized that the antibacterial activity was due to viruses which he named bacteriophages (phages for short) and he soon experimented with the possibility of using phages to cure and prevent bacterial infections. He subsequently worked all over the world, including Russia, Tbilisi, Georgia, where his efforts survive to this day in the form of the Phage Therapy Center ( ) that treats patients from all over the world.

Bacteriophages are viruses which are parasitic to bacteria and cannot multiply without infecting specific bacterial hosts. Each phage can only infect a specific bacterial host as it has to be able to link with special surface structures of the bacterial cell and once attached the phage injects its DNA into the bacterial host causing the infected bacterium to produce 50 to 200 daughter phages in as little as 30 minutes. Lytic phages then disrupt the bacterial cell, killing it and each daughter phage then looks for a new bacterium to infect and kill.

Prior to the discovery of the electron microscope in 1940 it was not possible to see bacteriophages and early phage biology depended on the observation that the addition of phages to broth cultures in which bacteria had grown resulted in clearing of the turbid broth and death of bacteria. When phages were added to solid media on which bacteria had grown clear zones (plaques) could be seen. Generally speaking, phage biology was not well understood and results from phage therapy treatments tended to be variable. Additionally antibiotics appeared and interest in phage therapy in the West ceased until antibiotic-resistance and superbugs resulted in renewed research in the West. It is interesting that many reviews dwell excessively on early work on phage therapy, rather than focusing on current knowledge. For individuals interested in the history of phage therapy the book by Thomas Haeusler entitled, Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? published in 2006 is recommended as an informative and more positive read on the history of phage therapy ( see ).

A more timely and productive approach to scientific information on phage therapy can be found in two review articles published this year:

• Monk et al. 2010 Bacteriophage applications: where are we now? Letters in Applied Microbiology, 51, 363-369.
• Kutter et al. 2010 Phage therapy in clinical practice: Treatment of human infections, Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, 11, 69-86.

Some readers of these two references may be surprised at the breadth of application of phages in the control of bacteria, ranging from prevention and cure of bacterial infections in humans and animals, to preventing foodborne disease, to disinfecting hospitals and food processing equipment, to controlling bacterial rot of tomatoes and peppers (Some authors use phage therapy for control of bacterial infections in humans and animals and refer to the other applications as biocontrol). The remainder of this article will describe some of these applications and try to indicate their regulatory status where applicable.

The first question every presenter on phage therapy is asked is: If I had an infection where antibiotics are failing is there any place where I can be treated with phages right now? There are two countries where treatment with pages is routinely available in Europe and they are Georgia ( ) and Poland ( ) ( Russia probably also uses phage therapy but much less information is available). More recently the Wound Care Center in Lubbock, Texas has used phage therapy as can be seen in the article entitled, The Next Phage, Popular Science, March 31, 2009 ( ).

The regulatory approaches in Georgia and Poland towards phage therapy are significantly different. As can be seen in the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage, phage therapy is routinely practiced not only on Georgian patients but the Phage Therapy Center caters to patients from many countries and many applications enjoy full regulatory approval.

In Poland at The Hirszfeld Institute and of Immunology and Experimental Therapy phage therapy is carried out under medical experimentation, ethical and compassionate use regulatory provisions similar to those that exist in most countries. A broad range of infections have been treated since the initial anti-staphylococcal treatment in 1925. Because of the regulatory provision all patients treated must have previously been treated with conventional methods, such as antibiotics and these treatments must have failed. Interestingly since the 1980’s their work with phages has been published in English language scientific journals. Very high success rates have been obtained for “infections caused by different species of bacteria: Escherichia, Klebsiella, Proteus, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus aureus, with an average success rate of 85%.” Their success rates for treating Pseudomanas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA strains have been reported to be even higher. One shudders to think of the public health impact similar programs in other countries could have.

Rediscovering Phage Therapy in the Rest of the World:

A complete detailed description of research in phage therapy is beyond this brief paper; however, significant research consisting of Phase I trails completed or planned have been reported for Britain, Belgium, Australia and India.

Perhaps regulatory approvals for some non-medical applications of phage therapy (biocontrol) granted in the USA should be of interest. The Food and Drug Administration has amended the US food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of a bacteriophages on ready-to-eat meat against Listeria monocytogenes (see ) and ) . The idea that ready-to-eat meat can be treated if contaminated with Listeria bacteria while a doctor could not get a pharmaceutical grade phage therapy product when faced with a patient suffering listeriosis, strikes this author as absurd, especially considering recalls of various foods due to contamination with listeria. The approved product is manufactured by Intralytix ( ) and ListShield targets Listeria mnocytogenes in foods and food processing facilities. Agriphage commercially available from Omnilytics ( ) is primarily used to treat bacterial damage of tomatoes and peppers and has been recognized as being compatible with organic food production. Biocontrol applications have recently been described in a book entitled: Bacteriophages in the Control of Food- and Waterborne Pathogens, Editors: Parviz M. Sabour and Mansel W. Griffiths, ASM Press, 2010. Interestingly both editors are Canadian, one of them a government employee and the other a university professor, in spite of the fact that there have been no regulatory approvals for phage therapy products in Canada.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Truthiness, Scientification and Bullshit in Communication

Truthiness, Scientification and Bullshit in Communication - From Public Health to Politics.
Presented by G.W. (Bill) Riedel, Ottawa – Tel/Fax:

Writers need to "develop a built-in bullshit detector." (Hemingway)and so must readers!

Canadian academic and author Laura Penny opens her book – ‘Your Call is Important, the Truth about BULLSHIT’ (There are at least 10 books in Ottawa public libraries with the word bullshit in the title, most of them written by academics) by quoting Lilly Tomlin: “No matter how cynical you become, it is never enough to keep up.” She then delivers her own judgement by starting the book with the observation: “We live in an era of unprecedented bullshit production” thereby joining other authors who have made similar claims. For example:
Neil Postman - 1969 - “every day in almost every way people are exposed to more bullshit than it is healthy for them to endure….” He further notes that “the best things schools can do for kids is to help them learn how to distinguish useful talk from bullshit.”
Harry Frankfurt - 2005 - begins his book ‘On Bullshit’ with “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”
In spite of this there are few attempts to examine the human propensity to bullshit, especially as it exists in public health and politics. This presentation will survey much of the academic literature on the subject.
Perhaps the most important question to be examined will deal with potential legal consequences for bullshitters - Andrew Aberdein deals with the question in, Raising the tone: Definition, Bullshit, and the Definition of Bullshit, Chapter 10, page 152 of Gary L. Hardcastle and George A. Reisch, 2006, Bullshit and Philosophy – guaranteed to get perfect results every time, Open Court, Chicago. Aberdein observes: “In British and American common law, a civil claim for negligence arises when the defendant has a duty of care to the plaintiff which he neglects to exercise, thereby harming the plaintiff. Here the deceptive bullshitter has a duty to tell the truth; neglecting this duty harms his audience if they come to believe his false statements…. The associated culpability can range from inadvertence to wilful blindness”.
If you are not concerned about culpability perhaps finding out what BBB, ABB and BBSN stand for might be sufficiently of interest to attend this presentation.

Increase the efficiency of your organization by declaring:

Berkun, Scott - #53 - How to detect bullshit -, August 9, 2006(accessed Nov. 23, 2010). (The first rule is to expect bullshit).

The end of leadership in the age of mba?

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bystander phenomenon

In recent weeks there have been many articles about the bystander effect - the reluctance of people to get involved when someone is in trouble.

I would like to suggest that the bystander phenomenon is far more wide spread than recent events would suggest. Here is an example: While 8000 to 12000 Canadians are dying from antibiotic-resistant superbug infections annually the joke is on us, as some countries still practice technology discovered by the Canadian, Felix d'Herelle in 1917. Phage therapy uses highly specific viruses, bacteriophages, which are harmless for humans, to treat bacterial infections. Phage therapy is not currently approved or practiced in Canada. According to a letter signed by a former federal health minister it can be made available legally to Canadians under the Special Access Program of our Food & Drugs Act! While lots of information on phage therapy is available in the medical and scientific literature, the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures of Bacteriophage and the book by Thomas Haeusler entitled, Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? ( see ) are available at Ottawa libraries. Information is available on phage therapy treatment in Georgia , Europe ( ), or Poland - ( ) or more recently at the Wound Care Center, Lubbock, Texas ( ) . What is perhaps more frustrating is that the Public Health Agency of Canada(PHAC) in it's Sustainable Development Strategy 2007-2010 ( ) assures: "Availability of phage therapy for E. coli O157:H7 in food animals". It seems to me that PHAC should focus on treating Canadians before food animals. Canada should establish 'The Superbug Victim Felix d'Herelle Memorial Center for Experimental Phage Therapy' to provide phage therapy to patients when antibiotics fail or when patients are allergic to antibiotics or are considering trips to seek treatment in other countries! Here is the bystander effect: How many persons (including the newspapers) who will read this will look at the literature to see if my information is scientifically valid and then write their elected officials or publish an article to object to the fact that phage therapy is not available in Canada? Remember all of us are potential victims of superbugs - when MRSA has come for a personal visit it will be too late!!