Phage therapy: alternative to antibiotics? |

Viruses are used to fight bacteria in phage therapy.

Researchers are looking for ways to fight bacteria without the use of antibiotics.

© Vasiliy Koval – Fotolia

Wed. January 15, 2020

Some bacteria are difficult to control because they have become resistant to antibiotics. In such cases, phage therapy could help – which has been around for a long time but has hardly been used due to various concerns. California researchers have developed a method that can be used to control the phages.


Irene Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Santa Barbara, and her team turned to bacteriophages in search of alternatives to antibiotics. These are viruses that only infect bacteria. “It is their natural function to grow on bacteria and kill them,” Chen explains. The researchers use the bacteriophage’s ability to penetrate certain bacteria without damaging the rest of the microbiome.

Phage therapy is not new, it has been used in the former Soviet Union for decades. However, there are concerns because the biology of the phages is not fully controllable. B. the possibility that they change during their rapid multiplication. Therapy also works according to the “all-or-nothing principle”, that is, it works – or not.

Controlled therapy shows success

To address these challenges, Chen ‘s team has developed a method for controlled phage therapy in which the phages are coupled to gold nanorods. These phages were then exposed in the laboratory to mammalian cells infected with bacteria. “When the nanorods are excited by light, they convert the energy from light to heat, and that creates very high local temperatures,” Chen explains. The heat generated is sufficient to kill the bacteria and also the phages, which prevents undesirable developments.

Using this method, the researchers were able to successfully destroy pathogens such as E. coli, P. aeruginosa and V. cholerae, with more than 80 percent of the mammalian cells surviving, even though the heat had successfully destroyed the bacteria and phages.


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