AN NHS department has become the first in the UK to treat a joint infection with a cutting-edge treatment.

Phage therapy uses viruses to target and kill bacteria in an infected area, the medicinal technique – was used widely in the early 20th century when it – was first used in 1919 but declined with the discovery of antibiotics. 

There is now a growing resistance to antibiotics, and the use of phage therapy “may offer a solution to manage multi-drug resistant infections,” an NHS Tayside spokesperon said.

The first patient to receive this treatment in Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital is an 84-year-old from Blairgowrie, Perthshire, who is responding well. They have spent most of the last year in hospital after an infection that developed in their artificial hip in April 2022. The treatment involved over 50 billion phages to target the joint infection.

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They had previously been treated with antibiotics and had their artificial hip replaced and a number of other operations in an attempt to cut out the infection, however had not improved in more than a year. The wound has healed for the time since Christmas with tissue samples from the hip indicating there is not any signs of infections since he received phage therapy. They should be able to go home by mid-July.

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.  

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Consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon 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 Ben Clift who has been working with Dr Jones to keep this service in NHS Tayside and to develop it as a national centre. 

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.”