NHS Tayside’s orthopaedic department has become the first centre in the UK to treat a joint infection using phage therapy, a cutting-edge treatment which uses viruses to target and kill bacteria in the infected area.
Consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon Mr Graeme Nicol, in conjunction with the UK’s only clinical phage specialist Dr Josh Jones and consultant in infectious disease Dr Daniela Munteanu, carried out the procedure to treat an infection in a patient’s hip joint. This is one of a handful of times phage therapy has been used in the UK and the first time this therapy has been used in the UK to treat a bone and joint infection. This new treatment has been supported by Mr. Ben Clift who has been working with Dr Jones to keep this service in NHS Tayside and to develop it as a national centre.
Bacteriophages (phages) are viruses that infect and kill bacteria. First used in 1919, phage therapy was used widely in the early 20th century but its use declined following the discovery of antibiotics. However, with growing resistance to antibiotics, this personalised therapy may offer a solution to manage multi-drug resistant infections.
The treatment works by exposing the infected area to specially-selected viral cells (phages) which target the bacteria causing the patient’s joint infection. Once the bacteria have been eradicated, the phages are simply destroyed by the patient’s immune system.
The first patient received this treatment in Ninewells Hospital and is responding well, with over 50 billion phages used to target their hip infection. The 84-year-old from Blairgowrie has spent most of the last year in hospital after an infection developed in their artificial hip in April 2022.
The patient had been treated with antibiotics, had their artificial hip replaced and had a number of other operations to attempt to cut out the infection, however it had not resolved in more than a year. Since receiving phage therapy, tissue samples taken from the hip no longer show any signs of infection and the wound has healed for the first time since Christmas.
The patient is currently receiving IV antibiotics for a secondary infection and, if all goes well, should be able to go home mid-July. They were very positive about the success of the treatment and how this will improve their quality of life, and they are looking forward to leaving hospital in the next few weeks.
Mr Nicol said, “This remarkable treatment works independent of antibiotic resistance and may potentially offer hope for patients with infections in many regions of the body, not just joint and bone infection. This is a huge step forward, not just for the population of Tayside but the UK as a whole, by offering a solution to antibiotic resistance.”