On the evening of Nov. 7, Steffanie Strathdee sent out a cryptic tweet: “#Phage researchers! I am working with a team to get Burkholderia cepacia phages to treat a 25 y old woman with CF whose infection has failed all #antibiotics. We need lytic non-lysogenic phage URGENTLY to find suitable phage matches. Email if you can help!” The message was retweeted nearly 400 times.
To the average social-media user, the tweet might as well have been written in another language, but to those who know Strathdee, it was a rallying cry. Strathdee is the associate dean of global health science at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and she’s part of a small but growing community of scientists advocating for an experimental treatment for superbug infections. The treatment, called phage therapy, uses bacteriophages, which are tiny viruses that appear to have an uncanny ability to destroy some of the most lethal strains of drug-resistant bacteria.