A chronicle of a teenager who underwent phage therapy against Mycobacterium infection

A rejoiced mom reiterates the saga of how she saved her daughter from a superbug infection, Mycobacterium abscessus, and the post-therapeutic life of Isabella. When the antibiotics failed, a forgotten therapy (The Phage Therapy) came to their rescue. Like any other mom, Jo Carnell-Holdaway was desperate to save her child from the suffering that is when she found about this therapy online and highlighted it to the hospital team. Immediately they contacted a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh to facilitate the treatment procedure. After a resilient period of selection and identifying the right phages for therapy, the cure was initiated. The treatment turned out to be successful, and presently she is enjoying her healthy life, such as socializing with friends and pursuing her education.

The Flashback:

Isabelle Holdaway is a 15-year old teenager hailing from Kent, England. Isabelle was diagnosed with a lung illness-causing cystic fibrosis at 11 months from birth, since then, she was under antibiotics, but in September 2017 she had undergone a double lung transplant due to which she was on immuno-suppressant drugs to evade transplant rejection. This caused her to contract with Mycobacterium abscessus, a bacterial infection, which started rapidly spreading, causing sores and swollen nodules across her body. Her pediatrician, Dr. Helen Spencer at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, was concerned about the path of the consequence as the failure of standard treatments that could lead to death as in previous cases. On hearing Isabelle’s mother on the viruses that kill bacteria, the doctor decided to take a chance in saving the precious life. So she contacted Dr. Graham Hatfull at the University of Pittsburgh, who has more than a decade long experience in working with phages against Mycobacterium, suitable phages were screened against the particular strain that they are dealing with from a collection of more than 15,000 phages at their facility. After months of strenuous investigation, they found three phages that can infect them. This excited them, but there came a hindrance where out of three phages, two were found to be temperate, wherein they could enter a lifecycle that discontinuities their virulent capacity and integrate their genome into the bacteria and cause repression. With the rich experience in molecular understanding and genome editing, Dr. Hatfull decided to knock out the particular gene responsible for the respective consequence by genetic engineering, and he succeeded in it. The treatment was initiated as a phage cocktail intravenously twice a day from June 2018, and her condition started to improve after 72 hours. After constituting for six weeks, the infection significantly reduced to few trace amounts of lesions, and liver scans indicated that the infection had vanished. The pediatrician believes over time; the infection could be cleared out of the system. The phages were isolated from Aubergine of decomposing vegetables in Durban, South Africa. The results of the study have been published in the Journal “Nature Medicine”.

Currently, she is pursuing arts and product design while preparing for the A-levels and equipping her driving skills. She is keen to travel to the USA to meet the team that helped her with the preparation of the bacteriophages for phage therapy.



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