Phage therapy platform for control of bacterial biofilms

Project title: Engineering bacteriophages and establishment of a phage therapy platform for targeted and effective control of bacterial biofilms

Application Domain: Health & Medicine

The challenge

Antibiotic resistance is recognised as a global emergency by the World Health Organisation and we desperately need to find suitable alternatives to effectively treat bacterial disease.

Bacteria can team up to form sticky, drug-resistant communities called biofilms that can be super-resistant to antibiotics. These biofilms can form on different surfaces, including catheters and water pipes, causing huge problems in clinical, industrial and natural environments resulting in an estimated annual global economic cost of billions of US dollars.

Conventional treatments to remove biofilms have low success rates and are not cost effective. The global emergence of multi-drug resistant bacteria and escalating antibiotic crisis are driving the need for research into effective therapeutic antimicrobial alternatives.

Our response

‘Phage therapy’, is a cheap, efficient and natural alternative to antibiotic use in tackling bacterial infections. Phages (short for bacteriophages) are viruses that infect bacteria.

This project will utilise synthetic biology to engineer phages that target and control biofilms in a variety of settings in biotechnology, medicine, water technologies and food industries.

Impact

This research will potentially deliver high impact outcomes in the fight against antibiotic resistance, as well as helping to advance the newly emerging field of synthetic biology in Australia. Phage therapy represents a cheap, natural, highly effective alternative to treating bacterial biofilms and infection with antibiotics. Phages are very targeted when infecting host bacterial cells and this negates the side-effects seen with broad-spectrum antibiotic use that target beneficial bacteria, too.

Team

Karen Weynberg (Project leader – CSIRO Synthetic Biology Future Science Fellow/ The University of Queensland), Mark Schembri (University of Queensland), Scott Beatson (University of Queensland), Tom Peat (CSIRO), Carol Hartley (CSIRO), Philip Bond (University of Queensland), Jeremy Barr (Monash University), Timothy Lu (MIT)