I've been interested in bacteriophages for a few years, ever since I first heard about them. This article goes into more detail about why they may present a new and better alternative to antibiotics in the treatment of resistant bacterial infections.
In the 1920s and '30s, with diseases like dysentery and cholera running rampant, the discovery of bacteriophages was hailed as a breakthrough. Bacteriophages are viruses found virtually everywhere—from soil to seawater to your intestines—that kill specific, infection-causing bacteria. In the United States, the drug company Eli Lilly marketed phages for abscesses and respiratory infections. (Sinclair Lewis' Pulitzer-winning Arrowsmith is about a doctor who uses phages to prevent a diphtheria epidemic.) But by the 1940s, American scientists stopped working with phages for treatment because they no longer had reason to. Penicillin, discovered by the Scottish bacteriologist Alexander Fleming in 1928, had become widely available thanks to synthetic production and zapped infections without the expertise needed for finicky phages.
But now the equation has changed. Many kinds of bacteria have become antibiotic-resistant—prompting a few Western scientists, and patients, to travel to former Soviet Georgia to give bacteriophages for treatment a try. Phages have been used in the former Soviet Union for decades because scientists there had less access to antibiotics than their American and European counterparts did. Phages were a cheap alternative, and in Soviet clinical trials, they repeatedly stopped infections. Now in a bid for medical tourists, Georgia has opened a center in its capital, Tbilisi, which offers outpatient phage treatment to foreigners. In connection with the Eliava phage research institute, which Stalin helped set up in Tbilisi in 1923, the treatment center offers personalized cures for a host of infections the United States says it can no longer do anything about.