The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir


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A "fascinating and terrifying" ( Scientific American) memoir of one woman's extraordinary effort to save her husband's life-and the discovery of a forgotten cure that has the potential to save millions more.

Epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee and her husband, psychologist Tom Patterson, were vacationing in Egypt when Tom came down with a stomach bug. What at first seemed like a case of food poisoning quickly turned critical, and by the time Tom had been transferred via emergency medevac to the world-class medical center at UC San Diego, where both he and Steffanie worked, blood work revealed why modern medicine was failing: Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic- resistant bacteria in the world.
Frantic, Steffanie combed through research old and new and came across phage therapy: the idea that the right virus, aka "the perfect predator," can kill even the most lethal bacteria. Phage treatment had fallen out of favor almost 100 years ago, after antibiotic use went mainstream. Now, with time running out, Steffanie appealed to phage researchers all over the world for help. She found allies at the FDA, researchers from Texas A&M, and a clandestine Navy biomedical center-and together they resurrected a forgotten cure.

A nail-biting medical mystery, The Perfect Predator is a story of love and survival against all odds, and the (re)discovery of a powerful new weapon in the global superbug crisis.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316418089
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 02/26/2019
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 104,288
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Steffanie Strathdee is an infectious disease epidemiologist, and Associate Dean of Global Health Sciences and Professor and Harold Simon Chair at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. She also directs the new UC San Diego center for Innovative Phage Application and Therapeutics and is an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins and Simon Fraser Universities. She has been named one of TIME's 50 Most Influential People in Health Care.

Thomas Patterson is an evolutionary sociobiologist and an experimental psychologist. A Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at UC San Diego, he has renowned expertise on behavioral interventions among HIV-positive persons and those at high risk of acquiring HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

Dr. Patterson and Dr. Strathdee have worked as husband-and-wife AIDS researchers on the Mexico-US border for over a decade. This is their first book together.

Table of Contents

Part I A Deadly Hitchhiker

Blindsided 3

1 A Menacing Air 7

2 The Last Supper 16

3 Disease Detectives 22

4 First Responders 28

5 Lost in Translation 33

6 The Colonel from Al-Shabaab 42

Tom: Interlude I 51

7 A Deadly Hitchhiker 52

8 "The Worst Bacteria on the Planet" 65

Tom: Interlude II 77

Part II Can't Eskape

9 Homecoming 81

10 Superbugged 91

11 Public Enemy Number One: Under the Radar 98

Tom: Interlude III 106

12 The Alternate Reality Club 108

13 Tipping Point: Fully Colonized 118

Tom: Interlude IV 132

Part III The Perfect Predator

14 The Spider to Catch the Fly 135

Tom: Interlude V 150

15 The Perfect Predator 152

16 Semper Forth: Always Faithful, Always Strong 165

17 A Hail Mary Pass 177

18 Panning for Gold 184

19 Journeying 194

Tom: Interlude VI 205

Part IV The Darwinian Dance

20 The Blood Orange Tree 211

21 Moment of Truth 227

22 The Bold Guess 234

23 Lysis to Kill 237

Tom: Interlude VII 241

24 Second-Guessing 244

25 No Mud, No Lotus 254

Tom: Interlude VIII 265

26 The Darwinian Dance and the Red Queen's Pursuit 267

27 The Last Dance 274

28 The Buddha's Gift 285

29 Grand Rounds 293

Epilogue 307

To Readers 313

Acknowledgments 315

Selected Chapter References 319

About the Authors 327

Index 329

What People are Saying About This

PhD, Director, Center for Microbiome Innovation, University of California San Diego and author of Follow your Gut and Di - Rob Knight

“The Perfect Predator is a compelling and heart-wrenching medical drama that would be completely unbelievable — if it weren’t 100% true! Strathdee and Patterson masterfully weave together the personal, medical, and scientific strands of their battle against one of the world’s worst superbugs, bringing not just Patterson, but a century-old medical technology back from the brink of death. This first-hand account of the front lines of the battle against the scourge of antimicrobial resistance underscores the human cost underlying the bland statistics.”

FRCP, FMedSci, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet - Richard Horton

"A remarkable story of love, resilience, the science of discovery, and quite possibly the future of medicine."

New York Times bestselling author of Where Good Ideas Come From and The Ghost Map - Steven Johnson

“At once terrifying and inspiring, The Perfect Predator is a brilliant race-against-the-clock medical thriller that is also a celebration of love, commitment, and the power of scientific collaboration.”

Senior Fellow of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University and author of Big Chicken an - Maryn McKenna

“A thriller, a detective story, and at its core a profound romance, The Perfect Predator is [a] breathtaking story…. It’s a warning of the havoc that awaits us as antibiotics lose their power, and a glimpse of the science that could hold that dark future at bay — if we can summon the funding and the political will to create it.”

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The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr Steffanie Strathdee (epidemiologist) and her husband Dr Thomas Patterson (psychologist) make their dream trip to Egpyt, unfortunately the dream turns into a nightmare. Thomas is struck down with what is iniitally presumed to be nothing more than food poisoning or a stomach bug, little do they know the devastation this illness will wreak on him. From an emergency airlift to Europe follows another emergency airlift to the USA, luckily to the University hospital where many of Steffanie's colleagues are employed. The fight for his life only intensifies there as they realise that they are fighting the most antibiotic resistant bacteria known to man. Only a handful of antibiotics even have a hope of treating it. When it appears that all hope is lost and Thomas is going to lose his fight, Steffanie finds an obscure paper regarding the use of phages for the treatment of these bacteria. Phages are a virus that "eat" bacteria but it's not as simple as that. They have to be matched perfectly to the strain of bacteria and the bacteria very quickly become resistant to the virus, the fight begins again. A brilliant, fascinating read and well explained for the lay person. Steffanie does acknowledge their privileged situation with regard to this battle which was one of my thoughts. Thomas had an advocate fighting for him who not only understood all the medical terms but also knew exactly who to reach out to for help. With this in mind she has helped many people access phage therapy and was instrumental in the FDA re-looking phage trials. I knew how dire the predictions of bacterial resistance to antibiotics had been but I had know idea that we are already facing them to this extent. New antibiotics have not been produced since the 80's and without something in our arsenal the situation will only worsen. Thank you to #Netgalley and #Hachette for the ARC of #ThePerfectPredator
Anonymous 9 months ago
Well written fascinating accounf of a superbug infection nightmare. Enough medical information to satisfy medical personel, with enough explanation to make it understandable to the lay person. As a true story it presents the clinical facts while taking you with them in the emotional ups and downs.
Danita White More than 1 year ago
Superb book! If you purchase this book you will not be disappointed. Very wordy but you will want to read every word to find out what happens. I think everyone should own a copy of this book because viruses and superbugs are real.
SheTreadsSoftly More than 1 year ago
The Perfect Predator: A Scientist's Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug by Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson (with Teresa Barker) is a very highly recommended medical memoir of the fight of a life time that reads like a futuristic fictional medical thriller/mystery. Steffanie Strathdee is a disease epidemiologist focused on infectious diseases, while her husband Tom Patterson is an evolutionary sociobiologist and an experimental psychologist. The "second time around" couple who had been married eleven years, were empty nesters with a passion for travel. Between the two of them, they had traveled to over fifty countries. To plan a trip to Egypt over Thanksgiving in 2015 seemed natural. While vacationing Tom came down with what seemed like food poisoning, but quickly turned critical. In an Egyptian clinic, doctors diagnosed pancreatitis, which was found later to be complicated by a football-sized pseudocyst infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. After two emergency medvac flights, Tom was hospitalized near his home at the UC San Diego medical center. Now Tom was fighting one of the most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the world, and seemed to be losing the battle. After several bouts of septic shock, Tom goes into coma and is placed on a ventilator. There isn't an antibiotic left to treat the bacterial infection and the situation is dire, when Steffanie gears up into professional research mode and pursues the idea that phage therapy could be the solution. She contacts researchers around the world, explains the situation, and asks if they are using phages in their research that could fight the specific bacteria Tom is fighting. Researchers from Texas A&M, and a Navy biomedical center are among the few that step up to help. This is not as easy as it sounds because she also has to go through the FDA for this unapproved treatment. This book is a page-turner and the action is just as heart-stopping as any fictional thriller, perhaps even more so because this is a real life battle. I was totally immersed in the drama of Tom's illness and Steffanie's determination. Most of the story is told through Steffanie's perspective since Tom was out of it or in a coma. There are short interludes of the dreams/hallucinations that Tom experienced while in the coma. In the age of increasing multi-drug-resistant bacterial infections, this case may be singular at first glance, but cases like Tom's will be on the increase. Bacteria are evolving much faster than the development of new antibiotics. Much of this is because of the very real over prescribing and over use of antibiotics. The writing is excellent and clearly presents the story in the sequence of the events as they happened. There is hope and humor in Steffanie's story, as she clearly loves Tom and is devoted to the life they have together. She is also fiercely intelligent. Along with the details of Tom's illness, the history of antibiotics is presented, and her research into phages and how they operate. This is a love story, medical mystery, gripping drama, historical chronicle, and completely captivating true-life story. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Hachette Books.
Janet-F More than 1 year ago
"The Perfect Predator" is a riveting read from the first page to the last, despite knowing the outcome from the beginning. The writing is clear, concise and compelling and held my interest throughout. It is the story of Steffanie Strathdee’s relentless pursuit of an unconventional cure for the multidrug resistant bacterial infection that was slowly killing her husband. It is a book about persistence, infectious disease, antibiotic resistance, and perhaps most importantly the off-label use of phage therapy that Steffanie Strathdee identified and that ultimately cured her husband’s infection. This therapy is not only innovative, but potentially may provide a significant contribution to future medical treatment of multidrug resistant infections, which are currently responsible for more than 23,000 deaths in the US each year. Highly recommended.
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
Steffanie and Tom are husband and wife, scientists, and risk takers. They have seen much of the world and much of viruses. But they were not prepared for this new chapter in their lives: the day Tom fell ill with an inexplicable illness. Thinking it could be food poisoning during their vacation in Egypt, the real fight for Tom’s survival began after blood work revealed that Tom was actually ill with a deadly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria! I feared that a blow-by-blow account of Tom’s illness and Tom’s and Steffanie’s fight for his survival could be a boring read. However, I was surprised that this was a fascinating story, and I could not put the book down. I also feel like I learned a lot about an antibiotic-resistant bacterium and why it is important not to overuse hand sanitizers and antibiotics. I also became fascinated with phage therapy. It was a whole new thing to me! I highly recommend this interesting, exciting and informative book! I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Magerber More than 1 year ago
This book tells the story of a man who is struck down by a horrific infection and his wife’s experience gathering together a team of researchers who create an antidote for him. Both the man and his wife are medical researchers at the University of California San Diego. On a vacation to Egypt, the husband contracts an infection caused by a number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He is hospitalized in Egypt, transferred to another hospital in Germany, and eventually returned home to the UCSD medical center where he eventually goes into a coma and is not expected to live. His wife manages to track down research being done on phages, a type of virus that attacks bacteria. Phages were discovered in the 1800s, but the development of antibiotics led to sidelining research about phages in most of the western world. However, the wife, Dr. Strathdee, manages to gather together a group of researchers who are able to isolate and grow the correct phages to fight her husband’s infection, and convince the FDA to allow his treatment with this untested therapy, which eventually allows him to recover from this infection. I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it is a fascinating account of the illness and development of a treatment for this seemingly untreatable situation. It is well-written, and reads like a thriller—even though I knew that the husband survived (he is a co-author), I didn’t want to put it down as the tension built throughout the search to develop an antidote in time to save his life. On the other hand, I was reminded of an interaction I had with a friend years ago. We were talking about the book Under the Tuscan Sun, which is a story of a couple who buy a rundown house in Italy and their adventures/experiences as they restore it and begin to treat it as their second home. I remember finding the book charming, but my friend was quite negative about it. She was offended by the lack of acknowledgement within the book of the wealth and privilege that allowed the author to have this experience. A few years ago, this same friend reached out to tell me that her husband had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, an extremely aggressive type with very little chance for survival. She also reached out to her friends and acquaintances and was able to get her husband involved in a cutting edge research study. Unfortunately, the result in his case were not as positive, and he died a few years after he was diagnosed. I find it particularly ironic that the same friend was involved in both of these stories, because after reading this book, I was left feeling much the same way as my friend felt about Under the Tuscan Sun. As fascinating as I found The Perfect Predator, it felt like there was so much missing from the story. I had read about phages in the past, and know that they are used quite a bit in what used to be the Soviet Union. Strathdee mentions research being done there, but never explains why she did not reach out to these people with a history of success using phages. The difficulties she must have faced trying to convince the FDA to allow use of this treatment, and the unknowns about things like dosage and how to administer the treatment felt like they were barely touched on. So, although I definitely enjoyed reading this book, in the end, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed at what I didn’t get to read. Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for providing an advanced reading copy.