Our project’s ultimate goal is to treat tonsillitis and strep throat using phage therapy. This can be an improved alternative treatment to antibiotics, due to antibiotics' limitations in treating drug-resistant strains of bacteria. We hope to incorporate our engineered Phage P2 into Lactococcus lactis, a common probiotic found in the saliva. When L. lactis is put in the mouthwash, it would release the engineering bacteriophage that would bind to Streptococcus mutans and inhibit its population growth, hence treating the cause of tonsillitis and strep throat.
Therefore, our proposed end users are people with tonsillitis and strep throat. The users can simply gargle the mouthwash to treat it. As Dr. Tiwan Wirawan explained in our interview, antibiotic resistance is increasingly becoming a prevalent problem in especially treating tonsillitis. She also believes that within the next few decades, antibiotics will not be as reliable in treating tonsillitis. Hence, ultimately, we hope our product can be used as a better alternative to antibiotics in treating tonsillitis.
This year’s project is only the beginning, and we hope to continue our research as well as encourage others to build upon the results of this year’s project to complete our envisioned final product. Due to unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19 , we conducted the lab with S. aureus and E. coli, instead. However, through this, we demonstrated the efficiency of biopanning in colonies of Phage KM13 as a method of finding the phages that can bind to bacteria outside its natural host range. Therefore, we envision future teams to use this finding to utilize biopanning on colonies of Lactococcus Phage P2 so it could bind to S. pyogenes. This year, we also found the sequence of a computational model of Lactococcus Phage P2 that can bind to both S. pyogenes and L. lactis.
Future teams can thus compare their Phage P2 after the biopanning process to the computational mutated Phage P2 from our project in order to efficiently engineer a new bacteriophage that binds to both S. pyogenes and L. lactis. The next steps would be to make this bacteriophage unable to mutate rapidly; thereafter, the bacteriophage can be incorporated into L. lactis. Finally, the probiotic can be implemented into a mouthwash. Vigorous testing would be required to ensure that the bacteriophage doesn’t harm the user or cause significant side effects on humans.
Implementing this project in the real world can be a challenge due to the public’s fear of phage therapy. However, if the tests result in the bacteriophage being relatively stable and effective, it can undergo testing processes by authorities. Of course, the process must be overlooked with care due to the nature of working with bacteria and bacteriophage that is likely to mutate rapidly. Safety considerations include ensuring the bacteriophage is stable, that the probiotic itself is harmless, and that significantly inhibiting S. pyogenes colonies in the mouth would not significantly disrupt the environmental microbiology that could negatively affect the user.
The overarching project will take many, many more years of research and rigorous testing to ensure the safety of the product. We hope for others to take on this challenge so that our vision could be actualized!