How a long-forgotten virus could help us solve the antibiotics crisis | Alexander Belcredi

How a long-forgotten virus could help us solve the antibiotics crisis | Alexander Belcredi


Take a moment and think about a virus. What comes to your mind? An illness? A fear? Probably something really unpleasant. And yet, viruses are not all the same. It’s true, some of them cause
devastating disease. But others can do the exact opposite —
they can cure disease. These viruses are called “phages.” Now, the first time I heard
about phages was back in 2013. My father-in-law, who’s a surgeon, was telling me about a woman
he was treating. The woman had a knee injury,
required multiple surgeries, and over the course of these, developed a chronic
bacterial infection in her leg. Unfortunately for her, the bacteria causing the infection
also did not respond to any antibiotic that was available. So at this point, typically, the only
option left is to amputate the leg to stop the infection
from spreading further. Now, my father-in-law was desperate
for a different kind of solution, and he applied for an experimental,
last-resort treatment using phages. And guess what? It worked. Within three weeks of applying the phages,
the chronic infection had healed up, where before, no antibiotic was working. I was fascinated by this weird conception: viruses curing an infection. To this day, I am fascinated
by the medical potential of phages. And I actually quit my job last year
to build a company in this space. Now, what is a phage? The image that you see here was taken
by an electron microscope. And that means what we see on the screen
is in reality extremely tiny. The grainy thing in the middle
with the head, the long body and a number of feet — this is the image of a prototypical phage. It’s kind of cute. (Laughter) Now, take a look at your hand. In our team, we’ve estimated
that you have more than 10 billion phages on each of your hands. What are they doing there? (Laughter) Well, viruses are good at infecting cells. And phages are great
at infecting bacteria. And your hand, just like
so much of our body, is a hotbed of bacterial activity, making it an ideal
hunting ground for phages. Because after all, phages hunt bacteria. It’s also important to know that phages
are extremely selective hunters. Typically, a phage will only infect
a single bacterial species. So in this rendering here,
the phage that you see hunts for a bacterium
called Staphylococcus aureus, which is known as MRSA
in its drug-resistant form. It causes skin or wound infections. The way the phage hunts is with its feet. The feet are actually extremely
sensitive receptors, on the lookout for the right surface
on a bacterial cell. Once it finds it, the phage will latch on
to the bacterial cell wall and then inject its DNA. DNA sits in the head of the phage and travels into the bacteria
through the long body. At this point, the phage
reprograms the bacteria into producing lots of new phages. The bacteria, in effect,
becomes a phage factory. Once around 50-100 phages have accumulated
within the bacteria cell, the phages are then able
to release a protein that disrupts the bacteria cell wall. As the bacteria bursts,
the phages move out and go on the hunt again
for a new bacteria to infect. Now, I’m sorry, this probably
sounded like a scary virus again. But it’s exactly this ability of phages — to multiply within the bacteria
and then kill them — that make them so interesting
from a medical point of view. The other part that I find
extremely interesting is the scale at which this is going on. Now, just five years ago,
I really had no clue about phages. And yet, today I would tell you
they are part of a natural principle. Phages and bacteria go back
to the earliest days of evolution. They have always existed in tandem,
keeping each other in check. So this is really the story of yin
and yang, of the hunter and the prey, at a microscopic level. Some scientists have even estimated that phages are the most
abundant organism on our planet. So even before we continue
talking about their medical potential, I think everybody should know
about phages and their role on earth: they hunt, infect and kill bacteria. Now, how come we have something
that works so well in nature, every day, everywhere around us, and yet, in most parts of the world, we do not have a single drug on the market that uses this principle
to combat bacterial infections? The simple answer is: no one
has developed this kind of a drug yet, at least not one that conforms
to the Western regulatory standards that set the norm
for so much of the world. To understand why,
we need to move back in time. This is a picture of Félix d’Herelle. He is one of the two scientists
credited with discovering phages. Except, when he discovered them
back in 1917, he had no clue what he had discovered. He was interested in a disease
called bacillary dysentery, which is a bacterial infection
that causes severe diarrhea, and back then, was actually
killing a lot of people, because after all, no cure for bacterial
infections had been invented. He was looking at samples from patients
who had survived this illness. And he found that something
weird was going on. Something in the sample
was killing the bacteria that were supposed to cause the disease. To find out what was going on,
he did an ingenious experiment. He took the sample, filtered it until he was sure that only something
very small could have remained, and then took a tiny drop and added it
to freshly cultivated bacteria. And he observed
that within a number of hours, the bacteria had been killed. He then repeated this,
again filtering, taking a tiny drop, adding it to the next batch
of fresh bacteria. He did this in sequence 50 times, always observing the same effect. And at this point,
he made two conclusions. First of all, the obvious one:
yes, something was killing the bacteria, and it was in that liquid. The other one: it had to be
biologic in nature, because a tiny drop was sufficient
to have a huge impact. He called the agent he had found
an “invisible microbe” and gave it the name “bacteriophage,” which, literally translated,
means “bacteria eater.” And by the way, this is one
of the most fundamental discoveries of modern microbiology. So many modern techniques go back
to our understanding of how phages work — in genomic editing,
but also in other fields. And just today, the Nobel Prize
in chemistry was announced for two scientists who work with phages
and develop drugs based on that. Now, back in the 1920s and 1930s, people also immediately saw
the medical potential of phages. After all, albeit invisible, you had something
that reliably was killing bacteria. Companies that still exist today,
such as Abbott, Squibb or Lilly, sold phage preparations. But the reality is, if you’re starting
with an invisible microbe, it’s very difficult to get
to a reliable drug. Just imagine going to the FDA today and telling them all about
that invisible virus you want to give to patients. So when chemical antibiotics
emerged in the 1940s, they completely changed the game. And this guy played a major role. This is Alexander Fleming. He won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work contributing
to the development of the first antibiotic, penicillin. And antibiotics really work
very differently than phages. For the most part, they inhibit
the growth of the bacteria, and they don’t care so much
which kind of bacteria are present. The ones that we call broad-spectrum will even work against
a whole bunch of bacteria out there. Compare that to phages,
which work extremely narrowly against one bacterial species, and you can see the obvious advantage. Now, back then, this must have felt
like a dream come true. You had a patient
with a suspected bacterial infection, you gave him the antibiotic, and without really needing to know
anything else about the bacteria causing the disease, many of the patients recovered. And so as we developed
more and more antibiotics, they, rightly so, became the first-line
therapy for bacterial infections. And by the way, they have contributed
tremendously to our life expectancy. We are only able to do
complex medical interventions and medical surgeries today because we have antibiotics, and we don’t risk the patient
dying the very next day from the bacterial infection that he might
contract during the operation. So we started to forget about phages,
especially in Western medicine. And to a certain extent, even when
I was growing up, the notion was: we have solved bacterial infections;
we have antibiotics. Of course, today,
we know that this is wrong. Today, most of you
will have heard about superbugs. Those are bacteria
that have become resistant to many, if not all, of the antibiotics
that we have developed to treat this infection. How did we get here? Well, we weren’t as smart
as we thought we were. As we started using
antibiotics everywhere — in hospitals, to treat and prevent;
at home, for simple colds; on farms, to keep animals healthy — the bacteria evolved. In the onslaught of antibiotics
that were all around them, those bacteria survived
that were best able to adapt. Today, we call these
“multidrug-resistant bacteria.” And let me put a scary number out there. In a recent study commissioned
by the UK government, it was estimated that by 2050, ten million people could die every year
from multidrug-resistant infections. Compare that to eight million deaths
from cancer per year today, and you can see
that this is a scary number. But the good news is,
phages have stuck around. And let me tell you, they are not
impressed by multidrug resistance. (Laughter) They are just as happily killing
and hunting bacteria all around us. And they’ve also stayed selective,
which today is really a good thing. Today, we are able to reliably identify
a bacterial pathogen that’s causing an infection
in many settings. And their selectivity will help us
avoid some of the side effects that are commonly associated
with broad-spectrum antibiotics. But maybe the best news of all is:
they are no longer an invisible microbe. We can look at them. And we did so together before. We can sequence their DNA. We understand how they replicate. And we understand the limitations. We are in a great place to now develop strong and reliable
phage-based pharmaceuticals. And that’s what’s happening
around the globe. More than 10 biotech companies,
including our own company, are developing human-phage applications
to treat bacterial infections. A number of clinical trials
are getting underway in Europe and the US. So I’m convinced
that we’re standing on the verge of a renaissance of phage therapy. And to me, the correct way to depict
the phage is something like this. (Laughter) To me, phages are the superheroes
that we have been waiting for in our fight against
multidrug-resistant infections. So the next time you think about a virus, keep this image in mind. After all, a phage might
one day save your life. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Replies to “How a long-forgotten virus could help us solve the antibiotics crisis | Alexander Belcredi”

  1. wait what i learnt during my school days that in bacteria there are good and bad bacteria but viruses are predominantly bad..wrong

  2. First heard about phages way back in 10th standard,but building a pharma-industry, never came into mind! Well done Sir..

  3. An oddly outdated insight. Yet even no notion of the long lived successful application of the phage therapy in Soviet and post-soviet countries…

  4. Speaker: Think of a virus.
    Me: (Thinks of a race of sentient viruses going about their business in a tiny cell-city, drinking Starbucks ATP as they go to work in a ribosome or mitochondrion) Yay! I love viruses!

  5. "It had to be biologic in nature because a tiny drop was sufficient to have a huge impact". I'm not seeing why something that has a huge impact must be biologic. Anyone see the necessary dependency?

  6. I feel like this guy isn’t a reliable source when it comes to phages even if what he’s saying is right and makes sense he owns a company that’s trying to sell you the thing that he’s hyping up. He more than likely is right and phages will be extremely important in curing super bugs and other evolving bacteria, but he’s also working in the pharmaceutical business and it feels like he’s already trying to sell a product he doesn’t have yet.

  7. So TED is now a platform for corporations to get free advertising by distilling high school biology into a fun, 10 minute talk?

  8. Ridiculous title, phage are enormously diverse as well as numerous – more so than all viruses of animals (including humans) put together, making describing them as "a virus" misleading and definitely are not in any sense "forgotten" by any microbiologist. Phage therapy is somewhat forgotten by the medical profession. Actually the most promising testing ground is in farm animal infections, due to relatively less strict regulation and problems with outbreaks in intensively farmed animals.

  9. Science makes life more interesting !
    The more we understand, the more options we can have to live a fun and easy life.

    Phages will save a lot of lives. We can be happy about their help for disinfection.

  10. It’s not even the health industry that is going to cause a ‘super bugs.’
    It’s the industrial food industry. This is why: medical use of antibacterial is reactionary. Meaning that they aren’t used until someone’s is sick. Industrial food processing used antibacterial medicine PROACTIVELY. They pump EVERYTHING full of antibacterial regardless if there is anything that need to be killed. Thus accelerating the process of natural selection and in reading the growth rate of resistant bacteria. I think that’s why the E. Colli. Outbreaks seem to get worse and worse every yea.
    We’re already too far down the rabbit whole though, we need bacteriophage to combat specific types of bacteria, so that we can keep the ones necessary for healthy gut fauna.
    I believe that’s why so many Americans today are at greater risk for colon and intestinal cancers and idiopathic diseases.
    Here’s a relevant study for anyone who cares: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5479392/

  11. Humans can heal from basic vitamin c doses and glutathione with fasting combined with pure nutrient replaced. Vitamin c..vitamin c…vitamin c…

  12. What changes everything is the knowledge.
    I heard a story that during the British colonies in India the scientists knew about a disease that was killing a lot of people all along the Ganges river. But there was a zone at the north of the Ganges where nobody was dieing. So they went there and found a wise man that was delivering just clear water to everybody. And people thought that it was magic.
    Scientists made some test. And were sure that it was something about the water that was curing people.
    So they took some samples and just recommended the wise man to boil the water before delivering it.
    The wise man did this. And in a few days he died.
    The boiling water happened to kill the fages. But nobody knew about these undetectable bacterii…

  13. Before we had antibiotics, scientist were working with viruses to combate diesease, and cancer. Since they were not so sure what a viruses were at that time, the work was difficult, but the scientist had much success with viruses. Then Antibiotics were invented, and people forgot about the work with viruses. So sad. The use of viruses was never forgotten, but when ever people did research in the subject, they could not get funded. Why you ask? Well, you can't patent a prexisting viruses, so no company wanted work with viruses. So what changed? Now we can genetically alter viruses, and patent them, so we can charge money. Good right? No, not so much. Inspite of what is said, viruses are changed sole so they can charge money when they are used. So now we are using a method that would be next to free, and making so we can charge a hundred thousand dollar to get treated. Sounds like a good Idea to you?

  14. First, I dont like the title, because of phages arent "long-forgotten". Then, there is no word on another way more interesting aspects of phages. Some really scary ones actually. Because phages kinda look like machines, build by "someone". Another astounding fact is, that phages kill about 40-60% of all bacteria in the oceans every day.

  15. I don't get how viruses helping can be amazing. We already know we are swarming with bacteria that don't bother us and thus passively ward away harmful bacteria by taking up relastate. We also know most viruses ignore us because they are specialized for other animals and we are too different to infect. So why the thought there are viruses specilizied for bacteria is such a huge mental leap for scientists perplexes me.

  16. Russia has been using phages against bacteria for almost 100 years. In fact in Europe they use them as well.

  17. I first heard about phages from a program that was on the tv in the early 90's in the UK. There was a place in Russia that had hundreds of these stored but due to the breakup of the soviet union they were struggling to preserve them, not heard of it since.

  18. Believe it or not, in the second half of the seventies of last century, 99% of what Dr. Rhode says here, I was told already as a dental first year student by our biology professor, who had been studying the publications from the Sovjet researchers who were at the forefront of viral study. Especially in the Ukraine, researchers were ready to start developing medication as described in the talk. But something is holding off (apart from the Russian-Ukrainian war…) the real breakthrough. Question is: WHAT?

  19. This is the first time I heard about it .Phage which is a virus could cure antibiotic resistant infection.Lot of pharmaceutical company are developing this breakthrough drug.Overuse of antibiotic is not good because our body get used to it and this drug does not work anymore.Great video.Reminder to all wash your hands as necessary with water and soap for at least 16 seconds or use hand sanitizer.ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

  20. People knew about phages a long time ago but since it's America people can't know about it… they need to buy anti biotics and if they die oh well business need money ya know… hide everything useless if it doesn't make money

  21. Back when I started secondary school, a prestigious grammar school in London in 1976, I mentioned bacteriophages in a biology class. The class was being taught by the elderly Head of Biology in the absence of our young newly qualified regular teacher. The elderly Head of Biology (then in his fifties) refused to believe that such entities which attacked bacteria existed! I was too young to know that they were viruses – I had seen the electron microscope image in a 1969 Time Life Guide to Science book we had at home with the caption 'A molecule comes to life'. Later at university where I studied Molecular Biology, I noticed that the standard historical textbook 'Molecular Genetics' by Stent and Calendar had originally been called 'Phage and the Origins of Molecular Biology'.

  22. Long forgotten? Phages and their capabilities were shown in an episode of Jimmy Neutron. Scientists know about them and know what they can do.

  23. Some day people will stop worshipping science and scientists and realize that we are NEVER as smart as we think (and worse, violently promote) that we are! Science must be used with humility, not wielded with hubris!

  24. E.H. Hankin discovered what would be known as phages in the Ganges and the Jumna rivers in 1895. He could not see them, but knew they were there, just too small to see. The waters of these rivers were bacteriostatic even when filtered through a porcelain filter, but they lost their ability to kill organisms when boiled. Had the profit margin not been there, antibiotics would never have replaced these natural killers. The Russians and the Georgians have been using them for years now, we are just barely catching up. If you are wounded on the battlefield in Russia, the medic will spray your wounds with polyvalent bacteriophage solution and you don’t get an infection. This presenter is a little late to the party.

  25. I learned of this years ago, and learning that the only serious research was being done in Europe tried to obtain a sample, but was unable to. With renewed talk I still can't find any.

  26. A friend had a wound which would never heal on his abdomen from a burn. He tried honey from New Zealand which healed the wound. I am a skeptic and read this is a successful treatment for many documented on Medline .

  27. Just the way phages are there to keep the number of bacteria in control in that same way bacterias are there to keep the numbers of human in control.Saving humanity ain't gonna save the world

  28. Staphylococcus Aureus almost killed my firstborn. Luckily it wasn't one of them antibiotic-resistant ones. That was about 35 years ago. I think we will need those phages pretty soon, and badly!

  29. Приятно видеть как медицина двигается семимильными шагами и как уменьшается количество "непобедимых" болезней.

  30. We here in Russia have different phages in pharmacies and you can buy them even without prescription. Usually they are packed into 20ml bottles of liquid without any particlar smell or taste. They are usually for different types of bacteria (like one for staphylococcys, other for streptococcus etc). Usually there are mixture of phages for 3-5 bacteria in every phage. And yes, you need to do sensitivity-test (like with antibiotics), because bacteria could be resistant to phages. BUT maybe couple months later there would be no resistance, because phages-industry always develop phages in order to overcome new resistance (unlike antibiotic, which is always the same unless new generation of particular type of antibiotics is developed). You can even make phage specifically for YOUR bacteria, but this is theoretically, I've never heard of this practically because I suppose it could be costly.

  31. i’m in high school and lucky enough to be a part of ecybermission, and we’ve made it our mission to find phages that will attack e.coli (thanks to that lettuce outbreak) and cyanobacteria. it’s interesting stuff

  32. The fact they can self replicate fascinates me. I remember seeing something about how the future of science is microscopic robots that could replicate and then destroy disease or tumors. Maybe phages are the next step towards a cure for cancer? I really want to study this in college and it might’ve just changed me from a dentistry major to some other biology, chemistry, or engineering. I just want to do something in stem that changes the world rather than just work a lofty dentistry job. I’ve never had any sort of passion like this before.

  33. 2:02 to the dude with the red phone – if you think that you are so special and all-knowing so you don't have to pay attention to what this creative mind has to say, then you never should have come in the first place..like, excuse me princess untouchable -.-

  34. Voting down for not even mentioning that phage therapy was invented and used by the Soviet Union. Those scientists deserve credit.

  35. What if this phage evolves into human attacking virus overtime?
    HIV was not a human attacking virus too , it was origined from chimpanzees. But overtime , it turned into human pathogenic virus.

  36. 1940: Penicillin Kills Bacteria
    1970: First sign of antibiotic immunity
    2000: Superbugs are developing more than ever because people are abusing the use of antibiotics
    Phages: Fine, I'll do it myself

  37. if we started to use phages based drugs against resistant bacteria, which is a good thing by the way.
    is it possible that phages will evolve with time and start to infect our body cells?

  38. Im building up resistant on antibiotics have a artificial bladder i keep getting infections also sinus infection my body dosent produce cortisol levels from tumor removed adreal gland which the right adreal gland never woke up so im on therapeutic doses of steroids that keep me alive but they also are killing my immune system suppressed compromised how can i get involved with studies of phages to see if they can help me ..i live in United States of America USA Boston area any hospital's doing experiment testing here ???

  39. He exaggerated by a lot by saying that there are billions of bacteriopahges on our hands alone. Most possibly a few hundred thousand may exist on our entire body. Rivers, lakes and sea water have high density bacteriophage presence as there are a lot of bacterias to feed on in water bodies.

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