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San Diego Man Saved By Therapeutic Use Of Viruses

Credit: UC San Diego

Above: Tom Patterson, UC San Diego professor, is shown at the UC San Diego Thornton Hospital in this undated photo.

A San Diego man who was dying from a drug resistant infection has been saved through the therapeutic use of viruses.

Viruses can kill, but they can also cure. Just ask Tom Patterson.

He and his wife, Steffanie Strathdee, were on vacation in Egypt in late 2015.

One day, Patterson became violently ill. He was treated at a local clinic for an inflamed pancreas.

Standard treatments did not help, and Patterson became sicker. He was medevaced to Germany, where doctors discovered that Patterson was infected with a multidrug resistant pathogen.

He was flown to UC San Diego’s Thornton Hospital. Patterson went into septic shock and fell into a coma.

"By then, I realized that all the antibiotic bags that were hanging on his IV pole were just there to make us feel better, and that there was nothing else that they could do," Strathdee said.

But Strathdee, an infectious disease epidemiologist at UCSD, started to research alternative treatments.

She discovered phage therapy. Phages are viruses that can destroy bacteria. They were used therapeutically before the age of antibiotics.

Strathdee sent out inquiries to the phage research community. She got a response from the head phage research at Texas A&M University.

He was moved by Patterson's plight, and told Strathdee that if she sent his bacterial isolate and he could find a match, he would help her.

UC San Diego Health

Steffanie Strathdee and Tom Patterson are shown, Dec. 8, 2016.

Eventually, three different teams of researchers found suitable phages for Patterson's infection.

The FDA gave its OK, and on March 13, 2016, a cocktail of phages was pumped into Patterson's body.

Three days later, Patterson woke up.

He said at first, he could not see clearly, and his mind was barely functioning.

"But when people began to speak to me, it was as if somebody had plugged in one of the strings of lights, and my memories came flooding back," he said.

Patterson was finally released from the hospital last August. He would like to think that his bout with multidrug resistant bacteria will be instructive.

"My hope is my experience is going to really lead to potentially saving millions of lives," Patterson said.

Phage therapy is still considered experimental. A 2016 report predicts antimicrobial resistance could kill 300 million people worldwide by 2050.

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