History

Brief history of bacteriophages
The discovery of bacteriophages was carried out in several stages. First, it is now generally accepted that the work of H. Hankin published in 1896 (document) in the annals of the Institut Pasteur are the first evidence of the presence of bacteriophages in water and their antibacterial activities. Then in the early twentieth century, before the discovery of antibiotics, an english researcher named Frederik Twort described a substance endowed with antibacterial properties but without details. Finally in 1917, a French-Canadian scientist named Félix d’Herelle (document) while working at the Pasteur Institute, describes the isolation and properties of what he sees as a microbe antagonistic, and which he gave the name of bacteriophage (from the Greek baktêria: stick -the first bacteria observed had a form of stick- and phagein : to eat). Finally, after a short period of development and use of bacteriophage in medicine, they were left to basic research that study them successfully to establish what we now call molecular biology.

Bacteriophages and medicine, a long history
In his princeps article in 1917, Félix d’Herelle isolated his first bacteriophages from the stools of patients recovering from dysenteria. He thought that these bacteriophages were agents of natural recovries that could be observed at that time. From this reasoning he quickly showed that bacteriophages could be used to treat bacterial infections in humans. Thus, bacteriophages were used in medicine from 1919, exactly 10 years before the discovery of the first antibiotic, penicillin. Bacteriophages were thus the first specific anti-bacterial agents and of course their use was immediately developed. However, the nature itself of these bacteriophages was at the origin of a scientific debate during 20 years until the demonstration of their viral nature (observation via electron microscopy) was established. Other events, such as the advent of antibiotics and the Second World War, then precipitated into decline the medical use of bacteriophages in the world except for Eastern Europe.
In the 1920s, a researcher named Georgyi Eliava visited Félix d’Herelle at the Institut Pasteur in Paris and returned convinced of the clinical use of bacteriophages. A few years later he allowed the construction of an institute dedicated to research and medical application of bacteriophages in Tbilisi. The institute still exists today (Eliava Institute of Bacteriophage, Microbiology & Virology) and maintained its original activity all over these years. Another centre for research and treatment with phages (Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy), is located in Wroclaw in Poland.  
 
For a little more than 10 years, the increase of multiple antibiotics resistant bacteria and the lack of the discovery of new antibacterial compounds have renewed worldwide the interest in the therapeutic application of bacteriophages.


  For more informations:

Radio show about phage therapy (13/03/09) - Listen
Radio Suisse Romande - Impatience


Des virus pour combattre les infections.
Book in french writen by Dr. A. Dublanchet
Favre Publishing.
www.geephage.org (information website about phage therapy, opened in 2008)
 
Viruses versus Superbug
Book writen in english by T. Häusler
Macmillan Publishing
www.bacteriophagetherapy.info