Saturday, December 05, 2009
Bacteriophage - Therapy History (Part 2)
Bacteriophages are viruses that can infect and destroy bacteria. This fact was actually used, prior to the discovery and widespread use of antibiotics, to treat certain infections.
Who discovered bacteriophages is the subject of debate. Most credit Frederick Twort (1915), an English bacteriologist, and Felix d'Herelle (1917), a French-Canadian microbiologist with the independent discovery of bacteriophages.
But in 1896 another British bacteriologist, Ernest Hankin, observed that water from the Ganges river in India had a marked inhibitory effect against Vibrio cholerae. Furthermore, he observed that the substance was susceptible to heat and could pass through a fine porcelain filter. The first phage was not visualized until 1939 by Helmut Ruska using an electron microscope.
D'Herelle used phages to treat dysentary and was probably the first to use phages therapeutically. In one experiment, he purified a phage preparation and ingested it himself to insure its safety. The next day he gave the preparation to a 12 year old boy suffering from severe dysentary. The boy's symptoms ceased after a single dose of the phage and he fully recovered from the dysentary.
The first published report of using phage as a therapeutic treatment was in 1921 by Bruynoghe and Maisin who used phage therapy to treat staphylococcal skin disease. Felix D'Herelle eventually started a commercial laboratory in Paris to produce phage preparation marketed to treat 5 different bacterial infections. The company later became L'Oreal.
In the USA in the 1940's the Eli Lilly Company manufactured phage preparations for human use. These preparations were specific for staphylococci, streptococci, E. coli and several other bacteria. It was a subject of debate of how effective these phage preparations were in treating infections.
Unfortunately (and fortunately) the large scale production of penicillin also occurred in the 1940's and commercial production of phages ceased in most of the world.