Monash biologist awarded over $130,000 to investigate bacteriophage therapy

Research on bacteriophages has won Monash biologist Dr Jeremy J. Barr a Ramaciotti Award for Biomedical Research with a grant of $137,534.

Perpetual, as trustee of the Clive and Vera Ramaciotti Foundations, this week announced $784,731 in funding to seven biomedical researchers.

Bacteriophages are are specialist viruses that only kill bacteria.

Dr Barr is the Head of the Bacteriophage Biology Research Group at the Monash University School of Biological Sciences. He will use his share of the funding to investigate novel bacteriophage treatment regimes to combat antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.

Dr Barr’s lab studies bacteriophages -- specialist viruses that only infect and kill bacteria -- and investigates their role and function within the human body.

“Bacteriophages (or phages for short) are the most abundant and diverse microbes found in the body,” said Dr Barr.

“They control and manipulate bacterial populations, prevent infection and disease and have important roles in regulating the microbiome and body that have not yet been fully elucidated.”

Bacteriophages were discovered over a century ago and were initially used to treat bacterial infections – a process known as ‘phage therapy’. But that all change in the 1940s with the widespread use of antibiotics to quickly and easily treat bacterial infections. As a result, phages were mostly forgotten.

But the rapid emergence of ‘super-bugs’ over the past decade that are resistant to antibiotics has led to growing concern. “We don’t have the drugs or chemicals to combat these infections any longer”, warned Dr Barr.

“I define a super-bug as a micro-organism that we’ve pushed to its evolutionary limit in the sense that we’ve been using antibiotics and antimicrobial agents against it for decades and it’s now starting to fight back.”

If the current trend in antimicrobial resistance is not altered, it is estimated that by 2050, ten million people a year will die from super-bug related infections, outstripping cancer and heart disease as our number one killer.

“Phage therapy is currently experiencing a well-deserved rebirth as another way to combat bacterial infections that no longer respond to antibiotics. It has the potential to save many lives,” Dr Barr said.

The Ramaciotti Foundations are collectively one of the largest private contributors to biomedical research in Australia and have granted over $59 million to research projects since 1970. This has included support for internationally renowned discoveries such as the world’s first cervical cancer vaccines and the Cochlear impact.

READ: Dr Jeremy Barr tells us some fun facts about the bacteriophages inside us

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