In an unexpected meeting of zoo life and medical research, the scientists have stepped on a remarkable journey. They are now using animal feces to combat antibiotic resistance! The team is mainly hoping to develop this to treat foot infections in diabetes patients as well.
A team of researchers from the University of Sheffield in England is releasing the potential of bacteriophages found in animal feces. The findings can steer us towards a future where antibiotic resistance could become a problem of the past.
Giraffes and lemurs from the Yorkshire Wildlife Park are surprisingly contributing to science in a way we never imagined. The unique research is led by Graham Stafford, chair of microbiology at the University of Sheffield. He focuses on setting apart the bacteriophages, also known as phages, from the feces of various species. These phages can infect and destroy bacteria. This offers an aimed approach to treat bacterial infections. It is an all-new alternative to the traditional antibiotics that bacteria have increasingly grown resistant to.
What if we told you that poo could be used to treat diabetic ulcers? And that this poo could save the NHS around £1 billion a year? pic.twitter.com/tdFQ2I7t5O— The University of Sheffield (@sheffielduni) September 21, 2023
Why Animal Poop?
Innovative phage therapy, based on bacteriophages, is coming as a savior in clinical trials. Even in severe cases where current treatments have failed. The specificity of phages means they attack only certain strains of bacteria. It avoids the indiscriminate damage caused by broad-spectrum antibiotics and reduces the chance for bacteria to develop resistance. Interestingly, when bacteria grow to escape phages, they tend to become more sensitive to traditional antibiotics.
This incredible approach led the research team to delve into the dung of animals such as giraffes (Giraffa), Visayan pigs (Sus cebifrons), and long-whiskered mammals known as binturongs (Arctictis binturong), among others. It is aiming to expand the range of phages available for treatments.
Targeted Treatment for Diabetic Infections Too!
The team is particularly focusing on developing phage therapies to treat foot infections in diabetes patients. Diabetes is a common complication with the mismanagement of blood sugar levels. Clinical trials around the globe are already exploring the potential of phage therapies. Early-stage trials suggest that the treatments are safe in humans.
However, Graham Stafford was quick to clarify, “It is important not to think that you’re going to take poo and put it on people’s feet—in the end, you’re making a product, like a medicine or an ointment.” The phages utilized in treatments are purified, cultivated in the lab, and safely stored under regulated conditions. Their research ensures the production of the antibiotic in medical-grade products.
To isolate the phages, feces are mixed with water, blended, and carefully filtered until only the viruses remain. Post this de-smelling phase, bacteria in lab dishes are exposed to these filtered-out phages. It helps to identify which strains the phages can infect. The results reveal their usefulness for human treatments.
The phages’ DNA is then extracted for a close analysis with previously identified viruses, and tested for stability and heat resistance. Microscopic images are also taken to study their shapes and sizes.
Towards a Future Free of Antibiotic Resistance:
The prospects of using bacteriophages in treating bacterial infections open up exciting new frontiers in the fight against antibiotic resistance. This research holds the promise of new antibiotic treatments. The endeavor to create a cocktail of phages for testing as an antibacterial treatment is ongoing. The studies related to this groundbreaking work are yet to reach the public. The scientific community eagerly waits for the results in the coming months.
This new exploration gives hope and shows us that solutions are sometimes in the most unlikely places. Even in a pile of giraffe poop at the local zoo. It’s a reminder of the diverse and incredible resources our natural world holds, offering us new ways to address our health concerns and pave the way for a future where antibiotics can be more effective and sustainable.