Viruses that can seek and destroy food poisoning bugs in the gut are being investigated by researchers at The University of Nottingham, thanks to a prestigious new grant.
The work, which has been funded with a $100,000 USD grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, could offer the potential for treating and preventing intestinal illnesses in children in developing countries including those caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli.
They hope the viruses, known as bacteriophages - the word meaning "bacteria-eaters" - and which only affect their target bacteria, could offer a viable alternative to antibiotics and a potential new approach for the developing world where the illnesses can often be fatal.
Professor Paul Barrow in the University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, who is leading the research, said: "In developing countries there is a huge amount of enteric disease.
"There is some evidence to suggest that gut flora - the bacteria that live in the gut - in childhood can offer protection against pathogens in later life and that it is tied up with the immunity of the host, their diet and other environmental factors."
The research is being supported by the Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative, which funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mould in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges.
The Nottingham project is one of more than 50 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 15 grants announced recently by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The University's Sutton Bonington campus has the greatest concentration of specialists in bacteriophages worldwide.
The research will study the effect of these bacteriophages in pigs which are an excellent and relevant model for intestinal infections in man because of the similarity in their gut bacteria and the way in which their immune system functions.
They will use the bacteriophages to target the Salmonella and other disease-causing bacteria in the pig intestine because they know that this can have an indirect beneficial effect on the normal gut bacteria which can improve immunity and their general health.
If they can prove that these phages are effective in killing and preventing the growth of nasty bugs in the pig gut, this could be translated into a new method for improving intestinal health in children and newborn infants in the developing world.
Given the potential protective effects of good gut bacteria and immunity, this could also help to keep them healthier in adult life.
Professor Barrow and colleagues are working closely with collaborators from the Universities of Liverpool, Washington and Florence who have expertise in gut flora in the developing world and already carry out research in the field in Burkina Faso in West Africa and Malawi in Southeast Africa.
At the end of the 18-month project, if successful, the researchers will have the opportunity to bid for a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.