October 19, 2019

Cystic Fibrosis Patients Turn to Experimental Phage Therapy

Cystic Fibrosis Patients Turn to Experimental Phage Therapy

By the time the phages finally arrived, Ms. Smith had been without oxygen for too long and was brain dead. “The doctors advised us to make the gut-wrenching decision to remove life support,” Ms. Shader Smith said. Ms. Smith died on Nov. 15, 2017, at age 25.

Her parents are determined to educate the world on phage therapy. A memoir, “Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life,” based on Ms. Smith’s journals from ages 15 to 25, was published in March, and Ms. Shader Smith has been on an extensive speaking tour at universities and corporations across the country. All of the proceeds are going to various nonprofits. They raised $5 million during Ms. Smith’s lifetime, and more than $800,000 through Mallory’s Legacy Fund, established after her death for phage therapy research.

Its impact has already been felt. In addition to the phage center at U.C.S.D., a phage directory was launched two days after Ms. Smith’s death, and the F.D.A. recently approved a clinical phage trial.

Ms. Smith’s story has also resonated on the individual level. Benjamin Chan, a researcher at Yale University, has used phages to successfully treat an 80-year-old Connecticut man with a deadly infection, and a Texas woman with cystic fibrosis.

In January, he treated Ella Balasa, a 27-year-old microbiology lab manager at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. Ms. Balasa was given a cystic fibrosis diagnosis at 18 months old and has ongoing infections caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa, for which she takes antibiotics.

Ms. Balasa inhaled phages once a day for a week. After a second round the following month, she was able to quit taking her antibiotics. While she still has only 22 percent lung function and expects to have a lung transplant soon, she believes phage therapy has helped her.

Dr. Chan has since shifted his focus to primarily treating cystic fibrosis-associated infections, and he credits Ms. Smith and Ms. Balasa, among others, for inspiring him. His lab was recently awarded a $275,000 grant by the nonprofit Emily’s Entourage, whose co-founder, Emily Kramer-Golinkoff, 34, has cystic fibrosis and was close with Ms. Smith.

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