Barr Lab, Monash University

Research Areas

Phage Therapy

Shortly after the discovery of phages, scientists and physicians realised their therapeutic potential. Phage therapy is the direct administration of lytic phages to a patient with the purpose of killing the bacterial pathogen that is causing a clinically relevant infection - you can read more in our review article "Phage therapy in the post-antibiotic era". During the pre-antibiotic era, great interest arose around phage therapy. Then Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 and the entire world changed.

Not even a century has passed since the discovery of antibiotics. However, it is difficult to imagine life without them. Antibiotic therapy has saved millions of lives and has been pivotal for medical breakthroughs such as organ transplantation and cancer chemotherapy. The possibility of losing antibiotic therapy as a resource in healthcare is truly frightening. But it is happening. Antibiotic resistance is a naturally-occurring event. Bacteria can be intrinsically resistant to one or more antibiotics, but can also acquire resistance traits through numerous genetic mechanisms. Furthermore, human activity -especially antibiotic overuse- greatly accelerates the processes driving antibiotic resistance. Add in the factor of a dry pipeline in antibiotic research and development, and we have the reasons behind the "post-antibiotic era" that we are already amid.

For a comprehensive review on the field of phage therapy, see "Phage Therapy in the Postantibiotic Era" or download the PDF here.

Phage therapy collection
Image shows Jeremy Barr and lab alumni Fernando-Gordillo Altamirano collecting wastewater samples to isolate bacteriophages against antimicrobial-resistant pathogens. Taken from the documentary 'Last Chance to Save a Life'.

Given these circumstances, it is unsurprising that interest towards phage therapy has been rekindled. Throughout the world, great work has been done to establish the effectiveness and safety of phage therapy. We were part of the team involved in the first reported case study that used intravenous phage therapy to save the life of a critically-ill patient in the United States (known as the 'Tom Patterson' case, which you can read from Washington Post and Time Magazine, with the published paper here). The significance of this work was highlighted as it not only proved the usefulness of phage therapy as an alternative to antibiotics, but the potential use of phages and antibiotics combined.

Our lab's research and translation of Phage Therapy

Phage Therapy research at The Barr Lab broadly focuses on understanding the fundamental biology of bacteriophages that infect and lyse clinical antibiotic resistant pathogens. Before we can effectively apply phage therapy in clinic, we first must understand how these viruses function alongside their clinical bacterial hosts.

Research from our lab in this space uncovered a new clinical paradigm whereby certain phages can re-sensitise their bacterial hosts to the antibiotics they use to resist. We found that bacteria were killed by phages, but quickly developed phage resistance. However, by understanding the fundamental biology and phage receptors, these phage-resistant bacteria were re-sensitised to certain antibiotics. We then conducted in vivo experiments utilising this "one-two punch" strategy to demonstrate the clinical utility of our approach.

For more information on our phage-antibiotic work, see "Bacteriophage-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii are resensitized to antimicrobials" or download the PDF here

We have established the Monash Phage Foundry (MPF) which serves as an in-house phage production facility to generate clinical-grade phage products for the treatment of local patients. The MPF has been designed to reliably produce phage products at scale that are safe for clinical administration.

We have also developed 'Phage Cocktails' against leading nosocomial pathogens that are highly drug-resistant. We developed an 'institution-specific' phage cocktail against an emerging clinical pathogen from a local hospital that had few treatment options available. We were able to produce this cocktail to a clinical-grade that enables us to administer our phage products to local patients enrolled through the VICPhage Service.

Phage Foundary
Image shows members of The Barr Lab in the Monash Phage Foundry (MPF) facility housed at Monash University, which provides clinical-grade production of bacteriophage products.

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The Barr Laboratory
Monash University

School of Biological Sciences,
17 Rainforest Walk,
Clayton Campus, Monash University,
Clayton, VIC, 3800, AUSTRALIA

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