BACTERIOPHAGES have been used to successfully treat alcoholic liver disease in mice in a recent study, with results carrying multifaceted implications not only for hepatologists but for the healthcare community as a whole. As well as potentially offering a more accessible treatment option to thousands of patients across the globe, the success could pave the way to more research against the growing global threat of antibacterial resistance.
Enterococcus faecalis is a gut bacterium that releases a liver cell-killing toxin called cytolysin. The scientists behind the study noticed that alcoholic liver disease patients had a higher volume of E. Faecalis in their digestive system than control subjects, and that levels of the bacterium were linked to disease severity. Furthermore, of those admitted to hospital for alcoholic hepatitis, patients who tested positive for cytolysin were far more likely to die within 180 days of admission than those who tested negative.
Following this discovery, the team identified four bacteriophages targeting cytolysin-secreting E. Faecalis and used them to treat alcoholic-induced liver disease in mice. The liver disease was eradicated by the treatment, and treatment with phages that target other strains of bacteria or even a strain of E. Faecalis that does not secrete the toxin did not have such a beneficial effect.
Study co-author Debbie L. Shawcross., King’s College London, London, UK, explained “This novel avenue of research now needs to be expanded to test the safety and effectiveness of phage therapy in human clinical trials in [people] with alcohol-related disease,” adding “It is also likely that other forms of chronic liver disease associated with changes in the gut microbiome will also benefit from this novel approach.” With the success of singling out a specific bacterium and eradicating its effect on the liver, this technology could also have implications for other bacterial infections that are not responding to traditional antibiotic therapy.