Untested virus cocktail saves life of transplant teenager

By Henry Bodkin, Science Correspondent

A TEENAGER given a one per cent chance of surviving a dangerous infection has been saved by an experimental cocktail of viruses.

Scientists have hailed the “remarkable” recovery of 17-year-old Isabelle Carnell-Holdaway, who came down with a bug related to tuberculosis following a lung transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

No previous transplant patient to have been infected with Mycobacterium abscessus at the hospital has survived. However, Isabelle, who was born with cystic fibrosis, is now out of grave danger after being given untested “phage therapy”.

Also known as bacteriophages, phages are a naturally occurring virus that attacks bacteria rather than the body’s own cells.

They inject their genetic code into dangerous bugs, forcing them to produce more phages.

Until now they have only formed a marginal role in medicine because antibiotics are a far easier way of stamping out harmful bacteria.

However, the new case, described in the journal Nature Medicine, is significant because superbugs are becoming increasingly resistant to traditional antibiotics.

Professor Martha Clokie, from the University of Leicester, told the BBC: “It shows how bacteriophages can be successfully developed as therapeutics even in very difficult circumstances where bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics and the bacteria are difficult to treat.”

Grahame White