When her husband Tom Patterson was brought to the brink of death by an antibiotic-resistant superbug, Steffanie Strathdee, an American epidemiologist, tried everything to save him…and she succeeded!
This story, detailed by our colleagues at CNN (Source 1), is almost miraculous, and deserves attention, at a time when bacterial resistance is on the rise.
As her husband was dying from an infection with a multidrug-resistant bacteria caught on a cruise ship in November 2015, and no antibiotics could stop it, Steffanie Strathdee asked him if he wanted to live. To do this, she suggested that she shake his hand very hard, since she had lost the use of speech.
Shocked and helpless when her husband responded with a very firm handshake, the epidemiologist set out to find an innovative treatment. She resorted to phagotherapy, a technique that consists of use phages against multi-resistant bacteria, in a kind of biological fight. In fact, phages or bacteriophages are viruses that feed on bacteria: they only infect bacteria and do not attack the human body.
A needle in a haystack
It still remained for Steffanie Strathdee to find the phages capable of attacking the specific strain of bacteria responsible for Tom’s infection, namely Acinetobacter baumannii, a fearsome multi-resistant bacterium. The epidemiologist then called scientists from all over the world.
“Phages are everywhere. It’s estimated that 10 million trillion trillion – that’s 10 to the power of 31 – the number of phages present on the planet”, said Steffanie Strathdee, during the Life Itself conference organized by CNN. “They are in the soil, they are in the water, in our oceans and in our bodies, where they are the gatekeepers that keep our bacteria count in check. But you have to find the right phage to kill the bacteria that’s causing it.“, he pointed.
The epidemiologist writes emails, like bottles in the sea, to the “sizes” of phage therapy in the United States. Using great persuasion, the American convinced a team to move heaven and earth to find the right phage to treat her husband.
Even before the rare pearl was found, Steffanie Strathdee managed to obtain the agreement of the Food and Drug Administration, the US health authority, for using an experimental treatment on her dying husband. We are talking here aboutCompassionate use”.
One thing leads to another, the US Navy, the US Naval Medical Research Center, also took advantage of this almost impossible mission.
Once the specific phages were obtained, they had to be purified in order to safely inject them into the dying patient. Once a first cocktail of purified phages was obtained, it was injected into Tom Patterson’s abscesses. The second purified cocktail, designed by the US Navy, was injected directly into the patient’s bloodstream. Three days later, the man came out of the induced coma he had been in and kissed his daughter.
Sequels, a book and a specialized center
If Tom Patterson survived, he still has serious consequences from this very serious bacterial infection. The man has developed diabetes, is insulin dependent, has heart and intestinal damage that affects his diet.
However, the couple consider themselves extremely lucky. Aware that not everyone has the contacts and persuasiveness to agree to such an experimental treatment, Tom Patterson and Steffanie Strathdee communicate on the subject and have written a book”so that other people can get this treatment more easily”. The title of it: “The Perfect Predator: One Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug“, literally “The Perfect Predator: One Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug.
“We do not believe that phages will completely replace antibiotics, but they will be a good complement to antibiotics. And in fact, they can even improve the effectiveness of antibiotics.Steffanie Strathdee said. With a colleague and friend, the epidemiologist opened a center specializing in phage therapy, the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics, or IPATH, where he monitors and treats patients with multi-resistant bacterial infections.
As for the unexpected recovery of Tom Patterson, it is the subject of a clinical case published in 2017 in the journal Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy.