Multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacterial pathogens constitute a critical public health threat. The spread of MDR pathogens in hospitals and in the environment has spurred a multidisciplinary response to develop novel antibiotic alternatives. Bacteriophage (`phage') therapy represents a treatment strategy that can, in principle, specifically eliminate MDR pathogens from animal hosts while minimizing off-target effects on host cells and commensal bacteria. The successful compassionate use of phage therapy for critically ill patients in the United States demonstrates a critical first-step towards large-scale translational deployment of phage therapy. However, prior clinical trials of phage therapeutic efficacy have yielded equivocal results, thereby raising the question: what are the core mechanisms underlying curative treatment of respiratory infections by phage therapy? The use of phage-based therapy presumes that the direct killing action of phage is responsible for pathogen elimination in vivo. In contrast, prior work of the investigators showed that the outcome of in vivo phage therapeutic treatment of acute pneumonia in a murine host depended critically on host immune state. The investigators combined population modeling and experimental analysis to identify a mechanism of `immunophage synergy' to identify criteria when phage therapy works and when it fails. Here, the project will combine population modeling, control theory, data- driven computational simulations, in vitro experiments with phage, bacteria, and neutrophils, and in vivo infection experiments in murine hosts to understand fundamental principles underlying curative treatment of acute respiratory infections. This project will characterize the spatiotemporal drivers of synergistic elimination in vivo as well as develop optimized combinations of phage strains, dosages, and timing to avert therapeutic failure via the proliferation of phage-resistant bacterial mutants across a continuum of immunodeficient hosts. The integrated and multidisciplinary research plans are designed to yield fundamental insights into the mechanism of synergistic elimination of bacterial pathogens by phage and innate effector cells as well as generalizable and rigorous approaches to optimized phage cocktail design when immune responses are compromised.
We will use an integrated mathematical modeling and experimental approach to study tripartite interactions between therapeutic phage, innate effector cells, and multi-drug resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa both in vitro and in an acute respiratory pneumonia mouse model system. The project will focus on understanding and optimizing synergistic interactions between phage and neutrophils in eliminating bacterial populations and in expanding the range of host immune states in which curative treatment of acute respiratory disease can be enabled via application of optimized therapeutic phage cocktails. If successful, these studies will provide a framework for advancing principles of phage ecology and innate immunology in the rational design of phage therapy for treatment of individuals with acute respiratory disease caused by multi-drug resistant bacterial pathogens.