Phage Therapy — The War Against Superbugs

The way out of possibly one of the biggest epidemics ever

The Story of a Survivor

Imagine you’re a kid born with cystic fibrosis (a lung disorder that causes sticky mucus production) and grow up constantly fearing death.

Image for post
Image for post


Before we begin, if you haven’t read my previous article on superbugs, go check it out first. It’ll be much more difficult for you to understand this article if you don’t know what superbugs are and what the big problem is.

What is phage therapy?!?!

Phage therapy involves using bacteriophages (that’s where ‘phage’ comes from), a type of virus, to kill bacterial infections.

Image for post
Image for post
Look at how cool they look!

So what can we do with them?

How is this more useful than antibiotics?

1. Because of their specificity, bacteriophages only kill the bad bacteria.

When a person takes antibiotics, they don’t only kill the infectious bacteria in their body. Antibiotics instead behave like a bomb, killing everything they come across. This includes the ‘good’ bacteria that are important to your body, assisting in processes such as digestion.

Image for post
Image for post
Phages are like guided missiles. They target the bad guys but leave all the good guys alone

2. Bacteria are not resistant to bacteriophages.

In the case of antibiotics, bacteria are the only ones mutating and evolving. This allows the bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotics since the medications don’t change in any way.

3. We can make antibiotics more effective.

Bacteriophages don’t have to kill the bacteria. They can be engineered to disrupt genes responsible for antibiotic resistance. By doing this, we can make the antibiotics effective once again, allowing us to continue using them to fight against bacterial infections.


Even with all the benefits, phage therapy isn’t perfect. There are many challenges that we must overcome to reach a point where phage therapy can be widely used.

1. We need to develop a library of phages

The specificity of phages also brings with it a huge problem. Since we can’t use one phage on multiple bacteria, we must develop an easily-accessible library of phages designed to target every type of bacteria that can be a danger to humans.

2. We must genetically engineer the phages to achieve the exact function we want

When we need to use the phage to restrict the development of antibiotic resistance, especially, we would have to genetically engineer the phages to target specific genes. This leads to even more difficult since we also have to figure out which genes to target, and how to disrupt them.

3. The body doesn’t like them

Even though bacteriophages do not attack human cells, they are still considered foreign entities. Therefore, when they are released into the bloodstream, they are quickly removed/killed, while the body also develops immunity to those phages. This means one specific phage can only be used once, to avoid an immune reaction.

4. We can’t predict the behaviour of phages

Even if we genetically engineer phages, we can’t ensure they will behave the way we want. There’s a possibility they won’t kill the bacteria.

Image for post
Image for post

5. Research is super slow

You might be surprised to find out that phage therapy isn’t something new. The idea of phage therapy was proposed even earlier than the development of antibiotics.

Image for post
Image for post

So where does that leave us?

We still have a far way to go. We have yet to perfect phage therapy for consumer usage and have yet to deal with the many challenges associated with it.

  • Phages are viruses that only target bacteria
  • There are many advantages to phage therapy, including specificity
  • There are also a few disadvantages, such as increased costs, as well as the requirement of a phage library
  • We need to invest more money, time, and energy into researching it

Support Me

That’s it for me. If you learned something new or liked this article, leave a few claps, and follow me to stay updated for future articles.

Written by

17 y/o innovator working on reversing ageing and researching cancer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store