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Ancient salve, modern MRSA solution?

Researchers at University of Nottingham in the UK are collaborating with an Anglo-Saxon expert in the University’s English department to recreate a thousand-year-old potion once used to treat eye infections. It seems the concoction, including garlic, wine and bile from a cow’s stomach, kills modern-day Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection.

The researchers have not yet published their study, but have released a video on the research collaboration. The Anglo-Saxon eye salve recipe originates from Bald’s Leechbook, an Old English leather-bound volume in the British Library.

In This Article

Recreating the Recipe

In Vivo Testing

 

Recreating the Recipe

The recipe is specific, describing not only the ingredients and amounts, but also how they should be pounded together, strained through a cloth and left to stand for precisely nine days.

Steve Diggle, Ph.D., associate professor of socio-microbiology at University of Nottingham, says the researchers tried to recreate the recipe as closely as possible, even sourcing the wine from a vineyard that existed in the 9th century.

“We then tested the recipe by growing established biofilms… of staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a synthetic model that mimics soft tissue infection,” says microbiologist Freya Harrison, University of Nottingham School of Life Sciences. “We simply grew these bacteria, added the recipe to them like a topical ointment, left it for 24 hours and just recovered the cells and counted how many bacteria were still alive. We found that Bald’s eye salve is incredibly potent as an anti-staphylococcal antibiotic in this context.”

The potion also killed the bacteria in the biofilm, according to Dr. Diggle.

In Vivo Testing

 

In Vivo Testing

“Then we asked a collaborator of ours in the States if they would test this in an in vivo wound model, and the big surprise is that it seemed more effective than a conventional antibiotic treatment,” he adds.

Just how it works remains a question — one that Dr. Diggle and his team are looking into. Harrison says it could be that there are several active compounds in the full mixture, and the medicine attacks bacterial cells on different fronts simultaneously. It’s also possible that combining the ingredients and leaving them to steep for several days results in chemical reactions that lead to the creation of another molecule that has a potent effect.

“Though thankfully uncommon, MRSA is a resilient bug that can wreak havoc on healing wounds,” says Adam J. Rubinstein, M.D., a plastic surgeon and chief of the department of surgery at Jackson North Medical Center, North Miami Beach, Fla. “I can see this as a topical ointment in wounds, where you might be concerned about MRSA. And if it works so well on MRSA, what else might it be effective against? Is it possible that this ointment might be useful, for example, in the rare case of infected breast implants? The recommended treatment is removal and replacement after waiting a while. Could those implants be removed, washed and replaced immediately with a coating of this ointment? Probably not, but it’s intriguing, nonetheless.”

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