Phage therapy: Superbug victim hoping to become the first to receive experimental life-saving treatment in Canada

Phage therapy: Superbug victim hoping to become the first to receive experimental life-saving treatment in Canada

A British Columbia man is hoping to become the first person in Canada to receive a century-old experimental treatment known as phage therapy, which us

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A British Columbia man is hoping to become the first person in Canada to receive a century-old experimental treatment known as phage therapy, which uses viruses to target antibiotic-resistant superbug bacterial infections.

Jeff Summerhayes became infected with a particularly resilient bacterial strain at the age of 16.

Jeff Summerhayes became infected with a particularly resilient bacterial strain at the age of 16.Wayne Hacheruk / Global NewsJeff Summerhayes, 57, lives on Vancouver Island and was born with cystic fibrosis, which causes his lungs to fill with mucus and creates a breeding ground for bacterial infections.When he was 16 years old, Summerhayes became infected with a particularly resilient bacterial strain called Burkholderia cepacia. At the time, doctors didn’t expect him to survive past the age of 20.READ MORE: Superbugs are becoming resistant to alcohol disinfectants, study says“The infection has slowly ravaged my lungs over 30 years,” Summerhayes told Global News. “The only way that they’ve been able to treat the infection so far is with antibiotic therapy.”

Jeff Summerhayes and his mother, Donna, in hospital. Jeff was born with cystic fibrosis, which makes him prone to bacterial infections.

Jeff Summerhayes and his mother, Donna, in hospital. Jeff was born with cystic fibrosis, which makes him prone to bacterial infections.Heather CariouBut after receiving antibiotics on a regular basis for decades, his bacteria adapted and the treatment became ineffective.“We were going through more and more drugs that the bacteria was becoming resistant to in a very short period of time,” Summerhayes said.“That meant they were bombarding me with three or four different antibiotics at a time, and that was hard on my kidneys. The more I have to be on antibiotics, the less likely they are to work and the more damage they do to my other organs.”

Jeff Summerhayes prepares his antibiotics following his double lung transplant in Vancouver, B.C.

Jeff Summerhayes prepares his antibiotics following his double lung transplant in Vancouver, B.C.Wayne Hancheruk, Global NewsIn September 2018, Summerhayes’ lungs were on the verge of collapse, and he was forced to undergo a double lung transplant. His doctors have told him he now has a 50 per cent chance of surviving the next year.In response, Summerhayes and his family began researching experimental treatments, and they came across some literature on phage therapy.

A bacteriophage used to treat a patient with a bacterial superbug infection.

A bacteriophage used to treat a patient with a bacterial superbug infection.Steffanie Strathdee
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Bacteriophages, or phages for short, are viruses that have naturally evolved to attack only bacteria. They were discovered in 1917 by French-Canadian microbiologist Félix d’Hérelle, who found the phages could be used to fight bacterial infections in people. But following the discovery of penicillin in 1928, phage therapy was all but forgotten by western countries, including Canada.“We’ve now come full circle,” said Dr. Jonathan Dennis, a microbiologist at the University of Alberta and Canada’s only phage therapy researcher.“Bacteria have evolved to become resistant to these chemical antibiotics, and now we’re losing the advantage that we saw with those chemical antibiotics. We’re not keeping up with the problem and we’re heading towards a crisis.”WATCH: How a Canadian doctor used phage therapy to save her husband from a superbug

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