San Diego researchers find potential breakthrough to deadly bacteria linked to recalled eye drops

3 people have died, 8 others have gone blind
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Posted at 7:51 PM, Mar 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-22 22:51:39-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. — Researchers at the University of California San Diego’s School of Medicine believe they’ve found a potential cure to a deadly type of bacteria that’s been linked to recalled eye drops.

A couple of weeks ago the CDC got in touch with researchers at the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics at UCSD.

The center has been working for the past five years to use bacteriophages to treat infections that antibiotics can’t kill.

“What it means literally is bacteria eater,” said Robert Schooley, professor of medicine in diseases at the university, while describing what bacteriophages are.

Researchers say they were able to find a few phages that were able to kill the bacteria in the samples sent by the CDC. But they won’t know for sure if it’s a breakthrough until it’s been used successfully on a patient.

“We don't know whether all of the strains will be exactly the same strain or whether they will all be sensitive the same phage. But we think there's a good chance that many of them, if not all of them will have at least one phage that will be active against the organism that has been causing this problem,” Schooley said.

The CDC said in an update Tuesday that three people had died and eight others had gone blind after using artificial tears. Four people have had their eyeballs surgically removed.

Researchers inside UCSD's Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics labs have been studying bacteriophages for several years. They are essentially viruses that kill bacteria.

So far at least 68 people in 16 states including California have developed pseudomonas aeruginosa. It is an extremely drug-resistant strain of bacterium that has caused multiple types of infections including to the eye.

The CDC says eye drops were common exposure for many patients and is advising Americans to stop using EzriCare or Delsam Pharma’s Artificial Tears products.

“Patients reported over 10 different brands of artificial tears and some patients used multiple brands. EzriCare Artificial Tears, a preservative-free, over-the-counter product packaged in multidose bottles, was the brand most commonly reported,” the CDC said in an update online.

FDA approval required

The director of microbiology at UCSD said researchers could have the phages, a potential cure, available to infected patients on an emergency case by case basis in as little as week but stressed it would require approval from the FDA first.

“In some ways you could think of it as a breakthrough. Another more simple way of thinking about it is this is nature. What we have found in terms of these bacteriophages are naturally occurring,” said David Pride in an interview with ABC 10News at the lab with the CDC samples.

Schooley said the potential cure could be given to patients through an eye dropper, a needle to the surface of the eye or by inserting fluid inside the eye.

The researchers believe the phages could be used more widely to treat other infections in the future that antibiotics won’t kill.

“We are running up against a wall with developing traditional antibiotics. And we need new approaches, millions of people are going to be dying of multidrug resistant bacteria. We’re already losing about a million a year worldwide,” said Schooley.