Anglo-Saxon cow bile and garlic potion kills MRSA
In the UK, the Telegraph reports:
A thousand-year-old medieval remedy for eye infections which was discovered in a manuscript in the British Library has been found to kill the superbug MRSA.
Anglo-Saxon expert Dr Christina Lee, from the School of English, at Nottingham University, recreated the 10th century potion to see if it really worked as an antibacterial remedy.
The ‘eyesalve’ recipe calls for two species of Allium (garlic and onion or leek), wine and oxgall (bile from a cow’s stomach).
It describes a very specific method of making the topical solution including the use of a brass vessel to brew it, a strainer to purify it and an instruction to leave the mixture for nine days before use.
None of the experts really expected the concoction to work. But when it was tested, microbiologists were amazed to find that not only did the salve clear up styes, but it also tackled the deadly superbug MRSA, which is resistant to many antibiotics.
“We were genuinely astonished at the results of our experiments in the lab,” said Dr Lee.
“We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings.
“But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science.”
Dr Lee translated the recipe from Bald’s Leechbook, a leatherbound Old Enlgish manuscript which is kept in the British Library.
The Leechbook is widely thought of as one of the earliest known medical textbooks and contains Anglo-Saxon medical advice and recipes for medicines, salves and treatments.
“Medieval leech books and herbaria contain many remedies designed to treat what are clearly bacterial infections, weeping wounds/sores, eye and throat infections, skin conditions such as erysipelas, leprosy and chest infections,” Dr Lee added.
The scientists at Nottingham made four separate batches of the remedy using fresh ingredients each time, as well as a control treatment using the same quantity of distilled water and brass sheeting to mimic the brewing container but without the vegetable compounds.
None of the individual ingredients alone had any measurable effect, but when combined according to the recipe the MRSA populations were almost totally obliterated: about one bacterial cell in a thousand survived in mice wounds.
Researchers believe the antibacterial effect of the recipe is not due to a single ingredient but the combination used and brewing methods. Further research is planned to investigate how and why this works.
Microbiologists at Nottingham University said they were ‘genuinely amazed’ by the discovery.
“We thought that Bald’s eyesalve might show a small amount of antibiotic activity, because each of the ingredients has been shown by other researchers to have some effect on bacteria in the lab,” said Dr Freya Harrison who led the work in the laboratory.
“But we were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was.
“This truly cross-disciplinary project explores a new approach to modern health care problems by testing whether medieval remedies contain ingredients which kill bacteria or interfere with their ability to cause infection”.
Scientist Dr Steve Diggle added: “When we built this recipe in the lab I didn’t really expect it to actually do anything.
“When we found that it could actually disrupt and kill cells in (MRSA) biofilms, I was genuinely amazed.”
Dr Kendra Rumbaugh, of Texas Tech University in the US, who was asked to replicate the findings, said that the salve performed ‘good if not better’ than traditional antibiotics at tackling the superbug.
The team at Nottingham is seeking more funding to extend the research so that it could be tested on humans.
The findings were presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham which runs from March 30.