Our body is a hotbed of organisms besides our cells. Some may be pathogenic, meaning causing disease. But a lot more are helpful in keeping our body in working order. A great case of technically helpful naturally-occurring organisms is bacterial viruses we call “bacteriophages” or “phages” for short, which infect and replicate inside bacteria found in our bladder.
This was reported by a recent study published in the Journal of Bacteriology. The study said the existence of these phages are helpful in maintaining a healthy urinary tract.
“Phage(s) have been used as an alternative to antibiotics for decades in eastern European countries, particularly for treatment of urinary tract infections,” said Dr. Catherine Putonti, the research’s author. “This first step in the characterization of the phages already present within the bladder has the potential to identify candidates for subsequent phage therapy clinical studies for urinary symptom treatment.
In order to identify what are these microorganisms existing in the urinary tract, researchers from the Loyola University in Chicago analyzed 181 bacterial genomes taken from the female urinary environment. They found out that the genomes there contained 457 phage sequences that were novel in nature but can no longer replicate to infect more bacteria. Out of the 181 bacterial genomes there, they found one of a few phages inside the genome responsible for reproduction.
Dr. Putonti said that they discovered lysogenic phages (phages that insert their DNA into the genomes of their host) in abundance within the bacteria of the bladder. They also discovered that there is a “core community” of phages in that organ. Moreover, the researchers noted some differences between the phage populations of women with healthy bladders and those which have symptoms of urinary tract infection (UTI).
The Loyola study is the first one to study in greater detail the phage population within the urinary tract mini ecosystem. The findings showed that many of the phage sequences are fairly new and not recognized in the current database of knowledge. Eventually, this information will be used to improve urinary health.
The researchers plan to study more the phage populations in the bladder as an alternative treatment to antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria.
Using pathogenic bacteria to treat phages have been in existence for some time, especially used in nature to manage surface bacteria in marine environments. Around the turn of the 20th century, phages were used to treat bacterial infections such as dysentery and others. However, the treatment received mixed success – mainly because researchers had very limited data and understanding of how they worked. Plus, bringing the phage to the location of the infection was too difficult. In the end, the treatment was junked in favor of pharmaceutical antibiotics.
The rise of the superbug, however, have developed bacteria which have an increased resistance to antibiotic treatment – and could be the way for the return of phage therapy in treating bacterial infections. In fact, several studies have already shown the benefits of phage therapy. Researchers have already found phage therapy is helpful in the treatment of Cystic Fibrosis lung infections. Moreover, animal studies have shown that it could be used also to treat antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli.
With phage therapy, this only target harmful bacteria and leave the good bacteria alone, so there are less adverse side effects often associated with antibiotics.
So do you think these natural bacteria-killing viruses in our bladder can be used as a better cure for UTIs? Share your opinion or any other tips for treating UTIs in the comments section below!