1000-Year-Old Recipe Can Kill Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs
Modern medicine has failed miserably at treating antibiotic resistant superbugs. Widespread use of antibiotics in farming as well as antibacterial agents have promoted the growth of dangerous superbugs for decades which could leave millions vulnerable to untreatable illness within a generation. A recipe for an eye salve found in the British Library in a 10th-century book of Anglo-Saxon medical advice may hold the natural solution to which conventional medicine has not been able to address.
While infections are becoming increasingly difficult to beat, no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since 1987. In contrast, a new infection emerges on an almost yearly basis.
"It could make even routine operations such as hip surgery deadly," said Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies. Dame Sally said the ‘catastrophic threat’ from infections resistant to frontline antibiotics is so serious that she has asked the Government to put antibiotic resistance on the national risk register -- ranking it alongside a large-scale terrorist attack or flu pandemic.
Bacteria that develop resistance to an antibiotic or other antibacterial agent generally grow more slowly than bacteria that are sensitive to the agent. From a public-health standpoint, this used to be beneficial because when the antibacterial agent was not present, the drug-sensitive strain would grow to dominate the drug-resistant strain. But new research suggests that bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics continue to persist, even thrive, whether antibiotics are present or not.
The recipe found in the 10th-century book specifies that specific ingredients must be brewed in a brass vessel, strained and then left to sit for nine days before use.
The ingredients include:
Onion or leek.
Oxgall, bile from a cow's stomach.
When tested in mice on wounds infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), it was performing well, reported scientists at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology this week in the United Kingdom.
"We were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was," Freya Harrison, the University of Nottingham microbiologist who led the study, said in a statement.
The idea of testing the remedy came from historian Christina Lee, who knows Harrison through a book club at the university at which members read at old Anglo-Saxon textbooks together, said Steve Diggle. Diggle, an associate professor of microbiology, runs the lab where Harrison does her postdoctoral research.
The remedy proved effective at killing bacteria in a test tube, so the researchers decided to try it on MRSA biofilms -- tightly packed, sticky coatings of bacteria found all over surfaces in places like hospitals. But the potion killed the biofilms too.
The researchers found none of the individual ingredients alone had any measurable effect on MRSA, but the combination was highly effective.
"What we need to do with this recipe," Diggle said, "is really understand how it works now."
Diallyl disulfide is an organosulfur compound derived from garlic and a few other genus Allium plants. It is produced during the decomposition of allicin, which is released upon crushing garlic. British scientists have developed a proprietary process through which the naturally occurring allicin in garlic is extracted, stabilized and concentrated.
"This work is very exciting to me because it shows that this compound has the potential to reduce disease-causing bacteria in the environment and in our food supply," said Xiaonan Lu, a postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper.
Lu and his colleagues looked at the ability of diallyl sulfide to kill the bacterium when it is protected by a slimy biofilm that makes it 1,000 times more resistant to antibiotics than the free floating bacterial cell. They found the compound can easily penetrate the protective biofilm and kill bacterial cells by combining with a sulfur-containing enzyme, subsequently changing the enzyme's function and effectively shutting down cell metabolism.
The researchers found the diallyl sulfide was as effective as 100 times as much of the antibiotics erythromycin and ciprofloxacin and often would work in a fraction of the time.
Another recipe of a soup based on more than 50 cloves of garlic, onions, thyme and lemon will destroy almost any virus that enters its path including colds, flu and even norovirus.
Two previous works published by Lu and WSU colleagues in Applied and Environmental Microbiology and Analytical Chemistry found diallyl sulfide and other organosulfur compounds effectively kill important food-borne pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Escherichia coli.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.