CRISPR Edited Viruses Are the New Enemy of Superbugs

Phages are the new 'it' treatment for deadly infections.
Jessica Miley

The CRISPR gene editing technology is being used to edit bacteriophages (called phages for short) to fight superbugs. Phages are viruses that prey solely on bacteria. They can infect bacteria and then multiply in such high numbers that the deadly microbes explode.


This is a new method of synthetic biology that sees researcher edit the genes of the phages so that they are specifically designed to fight against bacteria in certain patients. Despite how far we have come in treatments for severe infections, superbugs are on the rise. Although ‘superbugs’ have an almost comical name, they can be deadly serious.

Phage library to the rescue

Many otherwise, healthy patients die from treatable or drug-resistant infections all over the world. Graham Hatfull, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, is a specialist in phage research.

He was part of the team that recently used genetically modified phages treat a superbug infection for the first time. In that instance, a young teenager was fighting a deadly infection that arrived after a double lung transplant.

Three phages were given to her as treatment, two of which genetically modified to attack her specific bacteria. The procedure allowed the patient to recover, and the scientific data collected from the experience has been published in Nature Journal.

Hatfull uses a worldwide network of undergraduate research volunteer to help him collect for his library. One of the motivating factors for volunteers is the chance to name any phages they deliver to the catalog. So there library has colorful examples ranging from ‘muddy’ to ‘cheeseburger.’

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The study will follow 30 patients

Locus Biosciences is another lab that is using CRISPR to modify pages for treatment in human patients. The lab has teamed up with Doctor Michael Priebe at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga. They plan a new study that will involve infusing cocktails containing billions of phages genetically modified with CRISPR into patients twice a day for seven days at six centers around the United States.

Thirty patients will be involved, 20 of which will receive the phage treatment and ten on placebo. The researchers will track the volunteers and monitor the levels of E. coli bacteria in their urinary tracts.

If the study is a success, more research will be done on how modified phases can be used to treat infections. Priebe is a specialist in spinal cord injuries. He is hoping the result of the study can provide new ways to treat infections in patients who are paralyzed. Para and quadriplegics are susceptible to infections, particularly urinary tract infections. Often difficult to diagnose on time these infections can spread to the patient's bones or other organs putting their life in danger.

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