I have been a proponent of the concept of using bacteriophages as medical treatment for some time. They have always seemed, to me, to be an elegant precise solution to bacterial infection. Phages, viruses that infect bacteria, avoid the issue of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic side effects. They are safe — every mouthful of water is chock full of them— and ubiquitous and have a fascinating history. I have written about their use and advocated policy changes in order to facilitate their adoption but often this was not compelling. A new book by infectious disease epidemiologist, Steffanie Strathdee and her husband psychologist Thomas Patterson, does, however, provide a compelling case that will not be ignored.
The events detailed in The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband From a Deadly Superbug center on Patterson’s acquisition of a life-threatening multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter infection overseas and the Herculean efforts Strathdee expends in order to save his life. The book exquisitely details the daily ups and down of Patterson’s critical illness as he is continually swallowed in the throws of septic shock. Had this happened to anyone other than Patterson and Strathdee, that would be the end of the story but Strathdee excelled at finding a non-traditional cure for what would in 99 out of 100 instances a terminal infection.
Strathdee turned to the forgotten technique of using bacteriophages and, by now, this part of the story has been well publicized. What I particularly gained from reading this book was the diligent efforts of teams to match phages to the exact strain of Acinetobacter, construct cocktails, and work out the logistics of intravenous administration all the while successfully navigating the bureaucratic hurdles needed to use such a product.
Strathdee’s impassioned fight for her values, using cutting edge science and first-rate minds (including her own) to find an elegant solution is a lesson for how the battle against antimicrobial resistance can be won. Pushing through barriers, removing obstacles, following the science, and relentlessly persevering are important emulatable attributes that should be brought to bear on what is arguably the greatest health crisis humans currently face.
By paving this road, Strathdee has become a great benefactor of humankind.