Tom Patterson was dying in a hospital in the United States from a severe bacterial infection he contracted while traveling in Egypt. Doctors gave him predictions of the days.
Fortunately, his wife, Stephanie Strathdy, an infectious epidemiologist, happens to not give up searching for the needle in the haystack needed to treat him.
Strathdy spent agonizing months in a bedside vigil at UCSD Hospital in 2016 where she served as associate dean for global health sciences. “I had this conversation that no one wanted to have with their loved ones,” she recalls during a health and wellness event she co-sponsored with CNN.
“I said, darling, we’re running out of time. I want to know if you want to live. I don’t even know if you can hear me but if you can hear me and want to live, please hold my hand. I waited and waited, and all of a sudden, he pressed hard.”
From that moment on, Strathdy was determined to find a cure — even if it meant turning traditional disease intervention on its head.
After sifting through mountains of medical research, she finally found something that gave her hope: a phage cure. Phages are naturally occurring viruses that feed on bacteria.
Strathdi reached out to a researcher in Tbilisi, Georgia, who discovered her work online and learned that although the protocol is not mainstream, long-term studies conducted in the United States and abroad have already indicated that the treatment has shown promising efficacy in some cases.
However, with more than 10 million trillion trillion unique phages on the planet, identifying the handful that specifically feed on the tom-infecting baumannii bacterium was a task akin to finding a small star in a massive galaxy.
aka deadly bacteria Iraqi Because wounded combatants have sometimes been infected in Iraq – it ranks first on the World Health Organization’s list of dangerous pathogens. Courageously, Strathdee quickly began reaching out to Tom to get the treatment he desperately needed to stay alive.
Help from Texas A&M, FDA, and the US Navy
Her first task was to appeal to scientists to track down and purify samples of phages that feed on the particular strain of bacteria that was killing Tom. Texas A&M University biochemist Ryland Young, who has been tracking phages for more than four and a half decades, was eager to help. Soon, researchers from the US Navy were also involved in the mission.
Strathdee’s appeal has been granted to the Food and Drug Administration to speed up a “compassionate use” order that allows doctors to implement an experimental treatment in record time. A few weeks later, Tom was injected with his first intravenous dose of a purified “phage cocktail” from the Texas A&M University team. He noticed no adverse effects, and received his second IV dose, courtesy of the US Navy, two days later.
The miraculous results were more like something straight out of an episode of House (except for Hugh Laurie’s split personality, of course). Soon after his second push of the fourth phage, Tom, who was in a coma, was able to raise his head and kiss his daughter’s hand.
Promising phage nozzle
Tom Patterson is believed to be the first American patient with a superbug infection to be successfully treated with phage therapy.
Since Patterson’s recovery six years ago, and in collaboration with Dr. Robert “Chip” Scully, a prominent UCSD infectious disease specialist who spearheaded her husband’s care, Strathdy has opened Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapies (IPATH), a facility that treats and advises patients with drug-resistant infections.
With Scully ready to launch clinical phage trials in the antibiotic-resistant bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa associated with cystic fibrosis, Strathdee is also working to create a worldwide “phage library” in hopes of simplifying the process of curated source acquisition, purification and indexing. Collection of infection-specific phages.
While there are long-lasting and at times debilitating effects from his battle with the superhero, these days Patterson lives a happy and productive life, which he and Strathdy feel deeply grateful. “We are not complaining! I mean every day is a gift, right? ” Strathdy for CNN. “People say, ‘Oh my God, all the planets had to line up with this couple,’ and we know how lucky we are.”
(To learn more about this couple’s incredible story, read their memoirs: The Perfect Predator: A scientist’s race to save her husband from a deadly superbug.)
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