The George Eliava Institute of Bacteriophage, Microbiology and Virology
(aka Tbilisi Institute) has been active since the 1930s in the field of phage therapy
Phage therapy is the therapeutic use of bacteriophages to treat pathogenic bacterial infections. Although extensively used and developed mainly in former Soviet Union countries circa 1920, this method of therapy is still being tested for treatment of a variety of bacterial and poly-microbial...
, which is used to combat microbial infection (cf. antibiotic-resistant strains).
The institute was opened in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Mt'k'vari River. The name is derived from an early Georgian form T'pilisi and it was officially known as Tiflis until 1936...
, Georgia in 1923, and was a bacteriology
Bacteriology is the study of bacteria. This subdivision of microbiology involves the identification, classification, and characterization of bacterial species...
laboratory. Its founder, Prof. George Eliava
, was not aware of bacteriophage
A bacteriophage is any one of a number of viruses that infect bacteria. They do this by injecting genetic material, which they carry enclosed in an outer protein capsid...
s until 1919-1921. In that years he met Felix d'Herelle
Félix d'Herelle was a French-Canadian microbiologist, the co-discoverer of bacteriophages and experimented with the possibility of phage therapy.-Early years:...
during a visit to the Pasteur Institute
The Pasteur Institute is a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines. It is named after Louis Pasteur, who made some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine at the time, including pasteurization and vaccines for anthrax...
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...
. There, Eliava was enthusiatic about the potential of phage in the curing of bacterial disease, and invited d'Herelle to visit his laboratory in Georgia.
D'Herelle visited Tbilisi twice in 1933-34, and agreed to work with Prof. Eliava. It has been suggested that d'Herelle became enamored of the communist idea. In 1934, Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...
invited d'Herelle to the institute in Tbilisi; he accepted and worked there for about 18 months. D'Herelle dedicated one of his books to Stalin, The Bacteriophage and the Phenomenon of Cure
, written and published in Tbilisi in 1935.
D'Herelle had planned to take up permanent residence in Tbilisi and had started to build a cottage on the grounds of the Institute; it would later house the KGB
The KGB was the commonly used acronym for the . It was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and was the premier internal security, intelligence, and secret police organization during that time.The State Security Agency of the Republic of Belarus currently uses the...
's Georgian headquarters.
However, the collaboration between the two scientists was not to be. Around the time d'Herelle was to take up residence, in 1937 George Eliava was executed and denounced as an enemy of the people
The term enemy of the people is a fluid designation of political or class opponents of the group using the term. The term implies that the "enemies" in question are acting against society as a whole. It is similar to the notion of "enemy of the state". The term originated in Roman times as ,...
. D'Herelle fled from Tbilisi and, some believe, never returned. Another account states that he was in Paris at the time of Eliava's execution, and decided not to return. D'Herelle's book was also banned from distribution.
In spite of this development, the institute did not change its practical specialization, and continued its activity in the field of bacteriophage research. In 1938, the Institute of Bacteriophage Research and the Institute of Microbiology & Epidemiology (founded separately in 1936) merged, and the Institute of Microbiology, Epidemiology and Bacteriophage was formed. It existed until 1951 and was authorized by the People's Commissary of Health of Georgia. After 1951, it came under the auspices of the All-Union Ministry of Health and was renamed The Institute of Vaccine and Sera.
Since its inception, the institute was composed of a combination of industrial and scientific (research) departments. In 1988 the Institute was rearranged again and emerged as the Scientific Industrial Union "Bacteriophage" (SIU "Bacteriophage"). Around that time, its scientific portion was renamed the George Eliava Research Institute of Bacteriophage.
Based on the original intentions of D'Herelle and Eliava, the Bacteriophage Institute retained its leadership among other institutes of similar profile over the years. Teimuraz Chanishvili was the leader of the scientific part of the institute for over 30 years, until his death in August 2007.
The institute behind the Iron Curtain
The institute in Tbilisi became a general Soviet institute for the development and production of bacteriophage drugs. Patients with serious infectious diseases came from all over the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....
to receive treatments there. Bacteriophages became a routine part of treatment in clinics and hospitals. Ointments for the skin, and pills, drops, and rinses consisting of phages were sold and are still sold at pharmacies throughout Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...
at low prices.
After the Republic of Georgia declined to join the Russian Federation and the Georgian Civil War
The Georgian Civil War consisted of inter-ethnic and intranational conflicts in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia , as well as the violent military coup d'etat of December 21, 1991 - January 6, 1992 against the first democratically elected President of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his...
broke out in 1991, the Tbilisi facility was essentially ruined. The Eliava Institute's facilities were damaged and decades of research on bacteriophage nearly went down the drain. Thousands of bacteriophage samples identified over the years and catalogued in huge, refrigerated "libraries" suffered irreversible damage due to frequent electrical outages. Apparently, the Russians transferred some of the equipment to their territory and built plants for the production of bacteriophages in other locations. Clearly, they recognized the importance of the research and also that of continued bacteriophage therapy. The situation at the Eliava Institute continued to deteriorate until it was on the verge of closure.
However, in 1997, a report on the institute was broadcast by the BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...
, sparking a flurry of media interest in the West
The West is a generic term referring to the Western world, or Western culture or civilization derived from European origin.It can also mean:* The Western United States* Western Australia* Western Canada* Canada West* The West Australian, a newspaper...
. The headlines drew doctors and scientists to Tbilisi - and also, most importantly, energetic entrepreneurs from around the world who were determined to help save the institute and its stocks and fully explore the potential of this "new" and highly effective therapy. Georgian scientists whose names were connected in some way to the institute saw great opportunity, and some of them emigrated to the West to be part of joint projects. Some of the institute's projects with the rest of the world can be seen on the website of the Georgian Academy of Sciences, the umbrella entity which now includes the Eliava Institute.
Dr. Revaz Adamia is a present director of the Eliava Institute.
- George Eliava Institute of Bacteriophage, Microbiology and Virology
- Phage Biology Lab at EverGreen State College, Olympia, WA
- Phage Therapy Center, Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia
- Phage History at Intralytix, Inc, Baltimore, MD
- Biophage Pharma Inc, Montreal, QC
- "The Return of the Phage" at Smithsonian.com
- Article in USNews on induced antibiotic resistance in bacteria
- Nature Publishing Group: www.nature.com/naturebiotechnology. Volume 22, No. 1, Jan. 2004, Old Dogma, New Tricks - 21st Century Phage Therapy, by Karl Thiel.
- Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA: Vol. 93, pp. 3167–3168, April 1996, Smaller fleas...ad infinitum: Therapeutic Bacteriophage Redux, by Joshua Lederberg, Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation Scholar at the Rockefeller University, 1230 York Avenue, New York, NY 10021.
- The bactericidal action of the waters of the Jamuna and Ganga rivers on Cholera microbes, By M.E Hankin, Government Laboratory, Agra, India. Translated from the original article published in French, Ref. Ann. De l’ Inst. Pasteur 10.511 (1896).