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Phage therapy shows promise for treating Alcoholic Liver Disease

A team of researchers have successfully applied bacteriophage therapy to alcohol-related liver disease for the first time.

Phage therapy imgA team of researchers led by King’s College London and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have for the first time successfully applied bacteriophage (phage) therapy in mice to alcohol-related liver disease. [Bacteriophage pictured right, under a microscope]

In a paper published by Nature, the team discovered that patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis had high numbers of a destructive gut bacterium and that they were able to use a precise cocktail of phages (viruses that specifically destroy bacteria) to target and kill the bacteria, eradicating the disease.

They found that with this disease, liver cells are injured by a toxin called cytolysin, secreted by Enterococcus faecalis, a type of bacteria typically found in low numbers in the healthy human gut, and people with alcoholic hepatitis have more cytolysin-producing E. faecalis in their guts than healthy people. The more E. faecalis present, the more severe their liver disease.

To investigate the potential for phage therapy, the researchers isolated four different phages that specifically target cytolysin-producing E. faecalis. When they treated the mice with these, the bacteria were eradicated, and alcohol-induced liver disease was abolished.

Professor Debbie Shawcross, Professor of Hepatology and Chronic Liver Failure at King’s College London, said:

Chronic liver disease is responsible for 1.2 million deaths worldwide. The study team has shown that bacteriophages can specifically target cytolytic E. faecalis, providing a method to precisely edit the gut microbiome and offering a new treatment method for patients with severe alcoholic hepatitis.

Currently, severe alcoholic hepatitis is most commonly treated with corticosteroids, but they don’t tend to be effective. Early liver transplantation is the only cure but is only offered at selected medical centres to a limited number of patients.

With the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections, researchers have turned their attention to developing phage therapy. In limited cases, patients with life-threatening multidrug-resistant bacterial infections have been successfully treated with experimental phage therapy after all other alternatives were exhausted.

To find out more about this study, visit the King’s College London website.

The King’s Health Partners Liver, Renal, Urology, Transplant, Gastroenterology and Gastrointestinal Surgery Clinical Academic Group has made significant advances combining expertise in basic immunology and transplantation biology.