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Interview: Is Alzheimer’s caused by bacteriophages? Special

Scientists have reported on a breakthrough that may change conventional understanding of causes for many diseases like Alzheimer’s. This relates to viruses called bacteriophages. To find out more we spoke with Dr. George Tetz.

New York - Dr. George Tetz has led a research team that has recently presented important data that could change the conventional medical understanding of causes for many diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease, together with other neurodegenerative diseases.
This is that neurodegenerative diseases can be caused by bacteriophages. These are viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria. In the context of the new research, this is with the gut microbiota of humans and other mammals.
Dr. Tetz is involved with the Human Microbiology Institute, which is based in New York. To find out more, Digital Journal spoke with the researcher about the last findings and their implications.
Dr. G. Tetz is the founder and chairman of Human Microbiology Institute.
Dr. G. Tetz is the founder and chairman of Human Microbiology Institute.
Human Microbiology Institute
Digital Journal: Thank you for the interview Dr. Tetz. What are the chances of someone developing Alzheimer’s from the current population?
Dr. George Tetz: I’m sure you are aware of numerous fails in clinical trials for the drugs to treat Alzheimer’s disease (AD). However, it just reflects the lack of understanding of all the causes of this multifaceted disease. There is a gap between today’s pharmacology and the scientific knowledge of all the targets that have to be affected to make a new drug effective.
DJ: There are several different theories about the causes of Alzheimer’s, what do you think the primary cause or causes are?
Dr. Tetz: The AD is a multifaceted pathology because it is caused not by a single gene mutation, but by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. And until we discover the main factors that trigger it we will continue to make strides in treating diseases, but not preventing them. We believe that our discovery of bacteriophages’ implication is one of such previously overlooked triggers.
DJ: What are the main neurodegenerative diseases of concern?
Dr. Tetz: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Autistic spectrum disorders and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It can be clearly seen from statistics that all these diseases are on the rise.
DJ: How important is the human gut microbiome in relation to the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease or for affecting progress of the condition? Are there different types of bacteria associated with this?
Dr. Tetz: With respect to bacteria – yes, today there are associations with different bacteria, but this list is incomplete. Today, chlamydia and a spirochaetes are associated with AD. We believe that along with bacteria, phages are an overlooked factors that have to be considered for the possible association
DJ: For the general reader, how would you define a bacteriophage?
Dr. Tetz: A few words about bacteriophages and their abundance. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and replicate within a bacterium. Very important feature is that bacteriophages are believed to selectively interact with bacteria and to not affect eukaryotic cells.
Bacteriophages are widely spread in the outer environment and in humans and we are constantly exposed to them.
The estimate is that there is more than Ten to the thirty first power number of a phage particles in the oceans and the adult human organism is said to carry over ten to the fifteen power of phages. In other words the number of phages outnumber the total number of human cells by 100 times.
An animation of a bacteriophage in a visual presentation.
An animation of a bacteriophage in a visual presentation.
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Our ignorance about phages diversity and their role is remarkable, but what we know they are an important regulators of microbiota homeostasis.
DJ: Soviet scientists showed an interest in bacteriophages several decades ago, why were other parts of the world slow to look into these viruses?
Dr. Tetz: There are several hurdles that the introduction of this concept into routine clinical practice according to current evidentiary standards. They are primarily based on the self-replicating nature of phages which makes it difficult to control them.
To introduce phage therapy into routine clinical practice there needs to be more clear understanding of the bio-distribution, phage virulence, required dose, most appropriate route of administration and optimal modalities of treatment. In my opinion our discovery of bacteriophages as possible human pathogens has led to additional questions about their safety.
DJ: How do bacteriophages affect the development of neurodegenerative diseases?
Dr. Tetz: There are different ways of how phages are implicated in neurodegeneration. One is that bacteriophages may lead to the increased intestinal permeability. This allows an increased absorption of bacterial antigens, inflammatory mediators that in turn leads to endotoxemia, disregulation of inflammatory response and triggers chronic inflammation.
Previous studies have established a clear correlation between chronic inflammation due to impaired gut permeability and a variety of pathologies including neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes etc.
The other way is associated with the role of bacteriophages in the formation of prion proteins that have been shown to be associated with the formation of misfolded amyloid and tau-proteins in Alzheimer’s disease.
DJ: Are there steps that can be taken to address this?
Dr. Tetz: Yes, we are working in this direction and I will be able to tell you more once the studies are complete. Briefly – it is something that may bring the prevention and therapy of certain neurodegenerative diseases to a principally new level of efficacy.
Glass representation of the bacteriophage virus by Luke Jerram
Glass representation of the bacteriophage virus by Luke Jerram
Luke Jerram
DJ: Which conferences have you presented your research at and how has it been received?
Dr. Tetz: Studies were presented as oral presentations at the major microbiological conferences: American Society for Microbiology Microbe 2017, June 1-5, New Orleans, USA; FEMS 2017 7th Congress of European Microbiologists, July 9-13, Valencia, Spain; 52nd Annual Region I Meeting American Society for Microbiology The Connecticut Valley Branch, in conjunction with the Northeast Branch, Eastern New York, and New York City Branches, October 13, 2017.
DJ: What are your next research steps?
Dr. Tetz: Two other articles about evaluating bacteriophages and their implications in neurodegerative diseases are in press. I would be delighted to share data with you once these manuscripts are published.
We continue working on neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases, including animal studies as well.
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports, with the peer reviewed paper titled “Bacteriophages as potential new mammalian pathogens.”