Bacteriophages: An alternative to antibiotics?

Keywords: Russia; Poland; Drugs (human); Micro-organisms.
Correct citation: Lorch, A. (1999), "Bacteriophages: An alternative to antibiotics?" Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 39, p. 14-17.

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics has become a serious medical problem. Treatment with bacteriophages might pose an effective alternative that has long been known but has been ignored outside the former Soviet Union. The development of phage therapies exemplifies positive as well as negative implications for scientific development that is restricted in its access to the mainstream, English-language dominated scientific community.

All over the world, the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics is becoming a grave medical problem. Independent of the resources of the medical system, whenever antibiotics are used the development of resistance is a logical consequence; like all other living organisms, bacteria adapt to changing environmental conditions in a continuous process of evolution. The question is not whether but when antibiotic resistance will occur.
Ironically, resistance is promoted by both the overuse of antibiotics as well as insufficiency of dose. In industrialized countries, bacteria are developing multiple resistance to a range of antibiotics, which threatens to make the achievements of modern medicine futile. Without the protection against bacterial infections, for instance, large-scale operations and treatments that weaken the patients’ immune system, such as chemotherapy or organ transplantation, would not be possible. In developing countries basic medical care is already endangered by single resistance to inexpensive common generic antibiotics. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a great number of the population of developing countries will not be able to afford the replacements. In these countries, dosage often appears to be too low or treatment is not carried out over the whole course; resistance is encouraged because even if the patient is cured, those bacteria that are best adapted to low doses of these antibiotics survive. Cases of reported antibiotic resistance comprise tuberculosis, pneumonia and dysentery.
Although the spread of antibiotic resistance has long been known as a worldwide phenomenon, research seems to have reached a dead end. During the last 30 years, no new classes of antibiotics have been found, even with the help of modern biotechnology such as genetic engineering. Pharmaceutical companies have mainly focused on the development of new products derived from the known classes of antibiotics.

Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 39, p. 14-17.


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