Bacteriophage Therapy

In March 2016, Tom Patterson, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a patient at UC San Diego Health, became the first known person in the United States to successfully undergo intravenous bacteriophage (phage) therapy. He had contracted a life-threatening infection with a multidrug-resistant strain of Acinetobacter baumannii, an opportunistic and often deadly bacterium, while vacationing in Egypt in November 2015. Patterson was eventually transported to UC San Diego Health where, with emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he was treated intravenously with an experimental phage cocktail that specifically targeted A. baumannii. He began improving almost immediately, emerging from a months-long coma. While this is only one patient and Patterson’s ongoing recovery has not been easy, his experience opens a fresh avenue of research aimed at finding alternatives to traditional antibiotics, amidst the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.

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What is Phage Therapy?

Phages are viruses that only infect bacteria. "Bacteriophage" is Greek for “bacteria eater.” Phages as a therapeutic for bacterial infections in humans dates back roughly a century, but with the introduction of antibiotics in the mid-1900s, phages fell out of favor in most parts of the world. Now, with the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, phage therapy returns to the spotlight.




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  • UC San Diego Health phage therapy patient Tom Patterson and wife, Steffanie Strathdee, in November 2015, vacationing in Egypt just days before Patterson contracted a multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii infection

  • Phage therapy was used at UC San Diego Health to treat Tom Patterson’s multidrug-resistant infection with the bacteria Acinetobacter baumannii (pictured here in pink). Credit: CDC

  • UC San Diego Health’s Robert Schooley, MD, and Randy Taplitz, MD, administer intravenous experimental phage therapy for patient Tom Patterson, four months after he contracted a multidrug-resistant bacterial infection in Egypt.

  • Bacteriophages (green) attacking a bacterium (orange). Credit: MIT/Wikipedia

  • Tom Patterson recovering at Thornton Hospital at UC San Diego Health in July 2016, four months after phage therapy and eight months after he initially contracted a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection in Egypt.

  • Tom Patterson leaving Thornton Hospital at UC San Diego Health for the last time in August 2016, five months after phage therapy and nine months since he contracted a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection in Egypt.

  • Tom Patterson and wife, Steffanie Strathdee, at home in December 2016, nine months after phage therapy at UC San Diego Health and 13 months since he contracted a multi-drug resistant bacterial infection in Egypt.

  • Bacteriophages (orange) are viruses that specifically infect bacterial cells