Before antibiotics were discovered, there was research into bacteriophages as a treatment for human bacterial diseases. Bacteriophages attack only their host bacteria, not human cells, so they are potentially good candidates to treat bacterial diseases in humans.
After antibiotics were discovered, the phage approach was largely abandoned in many parts of the world. However, phages continued to be used for medical purposes in a number of countries, including Russia, Georgia, and Poland, where they remain in use today.
There is interest in bringing back the ‘phage approach’ elsewhere, as antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more and more of a problem. Much research is still needed to see how safe and effective phages are and whether phage treatment will benefit those with recurrent and chronic UTI.
Biotechnological advances have further expanded the potential of phage therapeutics. Current research on the use of phages specifically against multidrug-resistant bacterial infections, suggests phage therapy has the potential to be used as either an alternative or a supplement to antibiotic treatments. Universities in the US, Eastern and Western Europe, the UK, Asia and the Far East now have research centres dedicated to phage development for human clinical use and commercial agricultural use.
Antibacterial therapies, whether phage or antibiotic-based, each have relative advantages and disadvantages; accordingly, many considerations must be taken into account when designing novel therapeutic approaches for preventing and treating bacterial infections.
The bacterial range of phage therapy is generally narrower than that found in antibiotics. Most phages are specific for one species of bacteria and many are only able to lyse specific strains within a species. This limited host range can be advantageous, in principle, as phage therapy may result in less disruption to the normal body flora than commonly used antibiotics, which often disrupt gut flora and may result in opportunistic secondary infections by organisms such as Clostridium difficile, cause allergic reactions or tolerance issues. However this targeted approach may be considered to be a disadvantage of phages because the disease-causing bacterium must be identified before phage therapy can be successfully initiated. With multi bacterial infections such as recurrent or persistent cystitis, are the bacteria identified on urine testing the actual causative agents of the infection.