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Controlled phage therapy by photothermal ablation


Peng H, Borg RE, Dow LP, Pruitt BL, Chen IA.

Controlled phage therapy by photothermal ablation of specific bacterial species using gold nanorods targeted by chimeric phages


PNAS, 2020, 201 913 234; DOI: 10.1073 / pnas.1913234117



The use of bacteriophages (phages) for antibacterial therapy is under increasing consideration to treat antimicrobial-resistant infections. Phages have evolved multiple mechanisms to target their bacterial hosts, such as high-affinity, environmentally hardy receptor-binding proteins. However, traditional phage therapy suffers from multiple challenges stemming from the use of an exponentially replicating, evolving entity whose biology is not fully characterized (e.g., potential gene transduction). To address this problem, we conjugate the phages to gold nanorods, creating a reagent that can be destroyed upon use (termed “phanorods”).

Chimeric phages were engineered to attach specifically to several Gram-negative organisms, including the human pathogens Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Vibrio cholerae, and the plant pathogen Xanthomonas campestris. The bioconjugated phanorods could selectively target and kill specific bacterial cells using photothermal ablation. Following excitation by near-infrared light, gold nanorods release energy through nonradiative decay pathways, locally generating heat that efficiently kills targeted bacterial cells.

Specificity was highlighted in the context of a P. aeruginosa biofilm, in which phanorod irradiation killed bacterial cells while causing minimal damage to epithelial cells. Local temperature and viscosity measurements revealed highly localized and selective ablation of the bacteria. Irradiation of the phanorods also destroyed the phages, preventing replication and reducing potential risks of traditional phage therapy while enabling control over dosing.

The phanorod strategy integrates the highly evolved targeting strategies of phages with the photothermal properties of gold nanorods, creating a well-controlled platform for systematic killing of bacterial cells.