By Mary Hearty

There is more hope for COVID-19 patients whose immune systems the virus has weakened. Experts have found that  bacteriophage, a type of virus that feed on bacteria could be used to fight bacterial infections in those patients.

 “It’s clear that no single intervention will eliminate COVID-19. In order to make progress we need to approach the problem from as many different angles and disciplines as possible,” says Dr. Marcin Wojewodzic, a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow in the School of Biosciences at University of Birmingham.

In Dr. Wojewodzic new review journal, Phage: Therapy, Application and Research, he states two proposed approaches where bacteriophages could be used to treat bacterial infections in some patients with COVID-19.

According to the first approach, bacteriophages would be used to target secondary bacterial infections in the respiratory systems of those patients.

Introducing the bacteriophages in their respiratory systems would help reduce the number of bacteria and limit their spread, as a result, this would allow the immune system of the patients to produce as many antibodies to fight the coronavirus.

“By introducing bacteriophages, it may be possible to buy time for the patients’ immune systems and it also offers a different, or complementary strategy to the standard antibiotic therapies,” explains Dr. Wojewodzic.

The secondary infections such as pneumonia are among the causes of high mortality rate specifically in elderly patients with coronavirus.

“In the same way that we are used to the concept of ‘friendly bacteria’ we can harness ‘friendly viruses or phages to help us target and kill secondary bacterial infections caused by a weakened immune system following viral attack from viruses such as COVID-19,” clarifies Professor Martha R.J. Clokie, a Professor of Microbiology at the University of Leicester and Editor-in-Chief of PHAGE journal.

Dr. Antal Martinecz, an expert in computational pharmacology at the Arctic University of Norway who advised on the manuscript says: “This is not only a different strategy to the standard antibiotic therapies but, more importantly, it is exciting news relating to the problem of bacterial resistance itself.”

In the second strategy, the researcher suggests that synthetically altered bacteriophages could be used to manufacture antibodies against coronavirus.

Afterwards, they can be given to the patients through a nasal or oral spray. Luckily, the antibodies generated from these bacteriophages could be produced faster and at low cost using existing technology.

Professor Clokie whose research majors on the identification and development of bacteriophages that kill pathogens in an effort to develop new antimicrobials emphasizes: “We could also exploit our knowledge of phages to engineer them to generate novel and inexpensive antibodies to target COVID-19.”

She continues to highlight that this clearly written article covers both aspects of phage biology and outlines how we might use these friendly viruses for good purpose

“This pandemic has shown us the power viruses have to cause harm. However, by using beneficial viruses as an indirect weapon against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and other pathogens, we can harness that power for a positive purpose and use it to save lives. The beauty of nature is that while it can kill us, it can also come to our rescue,” concludes Dr. Wojewodzic while calling for clinical trials to test the two mentioned approaches.

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