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Expert discussion coming soon on bacteriophage therapy; subject of upcoming Medical Museum Science Café in Silver Spring

By: Paul Bello, National Museum of Health and Medicine

SILVER SPRING, Md. – Science education continues at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) with its next Medical Museum Science Café entitled: "Bacteriophage Therapy: Is There an Alternative to Antibiotics?" The program will take place Tuesday, Aug. 26, from 6-7 p.m., in the Fenton Room at the Silver Spring Civic Building.

Bacteriophage therapy has attracted interest from both the American military and civilian research arenas as a deterrent against drug-resistant bugs and hard-to-treat infections. Crystal Scott, an embryologist who teaches microbiology at James Madison University (JMU), will discuss bacteriophages – viruses that infect bacteria – and how they could find a role as a treatment for staph infections, dysentery, bubonic plague, burns or other open wounds.

"I began working with bacteriophage in 2010. The prospect of phage therapy, in a time when antibiotic-resistant bacteria is so prevalent, is what inspired me as a scientist," Scott said. "I feel strongly that phage therapy, which has been incredibly successful in the Republic of Georgia, is the answer to eradicating harmful bacteria."

At JMU, Scott said students are active as members of an authentic scientific research team. They work to isolate phages that can infect either mycobacterium (the most common form causing tuberculosis), or bacillus (which can cause infections such as anthrax). She said students also work to isolate viruses that infect the bacteria of interest. This is followed by a series of steps to purify their phages, image it with transmission electron microscopy, extract DNA and finally annotate the viral genome.

Because there are so many phages, it's statistically almost impossible for a student to find a phage that has already been 100 percent characterized. Through this process, however, Scott said they still learn about the discovery.

"Students are quite motivated by the entire process," Scott said. "They are also hooked by the idea of an answer to the treatment of a bacterial infection in a way that doesn't involve an arms race against antibiotics."

Joining Scott for the Science Café will be Dr. Mikeljon P. Nikolich, chief of the Emerging Bacterial Infections Department and Bacterial Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. He will be providing an overall history of bacteriophage therapy and will highlight recent advances in this field.

NMHM's Medical Museum Science Cafés are a regular series of informal talks that connect the mission of the Department of Defense museum with the public. NMHM was founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862 and moved to its new location in Silver Spring, Md. in 2012. For more information on this upcoming Medical Museum Science Café, please call 301-319-3303.