Babbage: How to battle superbugs with viruses
Antimicrobial resistance killed over a million people in 2019. That figure is expected to rise to ten million by 2050. Antibiotics remain vital to modern medicine, but this hidden pandemic of drug-resistant superbugs is driving scientists to explore possible alternatives. One type of therapy in particular is attracting serious scientific interest: bacteriophages.
Phages are viruses that can destroy bacteria. In the 1920s, phage therapies were used widely against infections, but much of the world abandoned the idea following the discovery of penicillin. Some parts of the former Soviet Union, though, have continued to use phage therapies. What can governments and international companies learn from this medicine?
Gilead Amit, The Economist’s science correspondent, travels to the Eliava Institute in Tbilisi, Georgia to find out how phage therapies have been used there over the last century. He speaks to the director, Mzia Kutateladze, head of phage production, Vakho Pavlenishvili, and from the therapy centre: Davit Sturia, Lia Nadareishvili and Lana Abesadze. Barry Rud, a Canadian patient attending the clinic, discusses his experience. Steffanie Strathdee, who leads phage research at the University of California, San Diego, explains the renewed international interest in bacteriophages. Alok Jha, The Economist’s science and technology editor, hosts.
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