The discovery of an organism able to target harmful bacteria and leave good bacteria intact in pigs has been welcomed by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), as it could change how drug-resistant infections in humans are treated.

Microscope
A new study has suggested bacteriophages could accompany or replace antibiotics and help address the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. IMAGE: StudioDin / Fotolia.

In research carried out by Martha Clokie and her team at the University of Leicester, 20 bacteriophages – or bacterial viruses – that target 72 strains of potentially drug-resistant gut problem-causing bacteria in pigs were isolated.

Safeguarding

According to RUMA, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) Pork-funded study suggests bacteriophages could accompany or replace antibiotics used to treat bacterial disease across all types of livestock, helping safeguard the future of some drugs in human medicine.

The breakthrough could also help speed the development of similar applications in human medicine, addressing the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

RUMA secretary general John FitzGerald said: “The issue of antibiotic resistance is one shared by human and animal medicine, and a number of initiatives across medical and veterinary sciences are attempting to understand and reduce the spread of resistance genes in bacteria.

“Phage technology is in fact fairly old… [with] the build-up of resistance [creating] new opportunities.

“A discovery such as this could be a real game-changer, not just helping the farming industry to steward antibiotics more effectively, but potentially speeding up the development of human medical applications.”

Licensing

Charlotte Evans, technical senior manager with AHDB Pork, said: “There’s still a long way to go in terms of trials and licensing, but we are very pleased this research has already yielded such promising results.

“Bacteriophage treatment is about using increased volumes of something that is already present to target harmful bacteria. Research suggests they do not harm other organisms because the relevant receptor is not present.”

She said the next step is to determine whether bacteriophages could be applied via spray, injection or vaccination, or by adding to feed or water.

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