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Bacteriophage Therapy - Completing the Circle

Bill Riedel, retired Canadian microbiologist, writes this letter in response
to a Globe and Mail article by Andrew Nikiporuk, 2006. 09.


Bill is passionate about the waste of money, opportunity and lives which
has stricken nearly all the "civilised" world's "Sickness" Services, and
especially the reluctance of regulatory authorities to sanction the use of
phage therapy to save lives - now! The wheel does not need reinventing.

Re: Hospital scourge. Millions of patients are infected by bacteria and
may die ..... Andrew Nikiporuk, Globe and Mail, 2006. 09. 30.

Death by superbug - the gift of death we keep on giving – too often

Never before has the superbug crisis been described so eloquently in so
few words than in this article; but now that the problem has been
described we need solutions!

The absurdity of the superbug crisis consists of the fact that it can be
demonstrated that we had technology, namely bacteriophage therapy,
long before we created the antibiotic-resistance superbug crisis through
massive abuse of antibiotics. Additionally many politicians, bureaucrats,
scientists and members of the public health community are or should be
well informed about a phage therapy which can cure many superbug
infections. In spite of a voluminous literature attesting to the scientific
validity and medical effectiveness of phage therapy (see and find phage therapy references), there are still
phage therapy deniers who would resist the careful deployment of these
weapons of mass-destruction for specific pathogens in the war with

Superbugs are winning most battles with an estimated 17
million human casualties due to microbial infections worldwide annually.
Many of these infections are acquired by patients after entering hospitals
for unrelated illnesses, making hospitals significant killing fields in the war
with superbugs. In Canada as many as 30 patients are dying of such
infections daily and we have known the magnitude of the problem at
least since the early 1970's when Ottawa bacteriologist Dr. J.C. N.
was on the conference and media circuit with essentially the
same message that is reflected in current papers ( J.C.N. Westwood,
Current National Patterns - Canada, Proceedings of the International
Conference on Nosocomial Infections, Center for Disease Control, Aug.
3-6, 1970, 17).
Nothing has significantly changed unless we consider the
worsening of the problem as success!

What is Phage Therapy? Prior to the discovery and widespread use of
antibiotics, bacterial infections were treated worldwide by the
administration of bacteriophages. Bacteriophages or phages are highly
specific bacterial viruses that invade bacterial cells and, in the case of
lytic phages, disrupt bacterial metabolism and cause the bacterium to die.

Interestingly it was the French-Canadian microbiologist, Felix d'Herelle,
while working at the Institute Pasteur in Paris in 1917 who is credited
with discovering and promoting phage therapy. While the use of phage
therapy was discontinued in the West soon after the discovery of
antibiotics they continued to be utilized in Eastern Europe and today many
infections untreatable with antibiotics can be treated in clinics in Georgia
(Europe) and Poland.

Once one accepts the fact that it requires microscopes to see the world of
bacteria and bacteriophages, phage therapy may be compared to any biological
control methodology and can conceptually be described as: What a cat is to a mouse,
the right bacteriophage is to a specific bacterium or superbug. Phage therapy has
been going on in nature as a balancing force in the evolution of microbes.
Medical phage therapy is simply the intervention of humans to ensure
that the balance is in favour of bacteriophages over susceptible bacterial

While there is considerable expertise on phage therapy in
Canada at the research level as can be substantiated by googling phage
therapy ("pages from Canada" only), medical phage therapy is not
currently approved or practised in Canada; however, according to a
letter signed by the former federal health minister phage therapy can be
made available legally to Canadian patients under the Special Access
Program of our Food & Drugs Act!

A discussion of phage therapy is currently very timely, not only because
too many Canadians are dying of superbug infections; but also because of
the recent release of the Canadian film: Killer Cure: The Amazing Adventures
of Bacteriophage
and the June 2006 release of the English book by Thomas Haeusler
entitled Viruses vs. Superbugs, a solution to the antibiotics crisis? ( see )
- both are available at Ottawa libraries. Additionally, the record of an excellent
question-and-answer session with Dr. Roger Johnson of the Public Health Agency of Canada
can be found at

Further, the phage therapy file has dramatically changed during the last few weeks
because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has amended the
US food additive regulations to provide for the safe use of a
bacteriophage preparation on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products as
an antimicrobial agent against Listeria monocytogenes (see ).
This excellent submission evaluation changes the scientific validity of phage
therapy from Eastern European science, which sadly too many of us
Westerners dismiss with hubris and bias as not credible, to approved
and supported by the all-knowing and all-seeing FDA.

Superbugs are everybody’s business because superbugs make
everybody their business and every Canadian should study the above
references because sooner or later everybody will be faced with an
infection or know a relative or friend who will be suffering or dying with
one. Withholding such treatment from patients when antibiotics are failing
ought to be a crime!

G.W. (Bill) Riedel, PhD
42 Richlin Cres.
Ottawa, ON K2B 8K4
Tel/fax: 613-828-5756

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