April 30, 2015 by John Crapper
This tidbit of information came to my attention the other day and I just had to utter my go to phrase when I’m catapulted into being astounded – Holy Shit!
London (CNN)It might sound like a really old wives’ tale, but a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon potion for eye infections may hold the key to wiping out the modern-day superbug MRSA, according to new research.
The 10th-century “eyesalve was disscovered at the British Library in a leather-bound volume of Bald’s Leechbook, one of the earliest known medical textbooks. Despite some ambiguities in the text, Christina Lee, an expert on Anglo-Saxon society at the University of Nottingham was able to translate the text.
“We chose this recipe in Bald’s Leechbook because it contains ingredients such as garlic that are currently investigated by other researchers on their potential antibiotic effectiveness,” Lee said in a video posted on the university’s website. “And so we looked at a recipe that is fairly straightforward. It’s also a recipe where we are told it’s the ‘best of leechdoms’ — how could you not test that? So we were curious.”
Lee decided to investigate if the concoction actually worked and with the help of some of her colleagues replicated the recipe.
The recipe calls for two species of Allium (garlic and onion or leek), wine and oxgall (bile from a cow’s stomach) to be brewed in a brass vessel. “We recreated the recipe as faithfully as we could. The Bald gives very precise instructions for the ratio of different ingredients and for the way they should be combined before use, so we tried to follow that as closely as possible,” said microbiologist Freya Harrison, who led the work in the lab at the School of Life Sciences.
Meticulous attention was given to finding as close to the original ingredients as possible. For instance the book called for the recipe to be left to stand for nine days before being strained through a cloth. Efforts also were made to replicate the exact wine referenced from a vineyard known to have existed in the ninth century, according to Steve Diggle, an associate professor of sociomicrobiology, who also worked on the project.
The researchers then tested their recipe on cultures of MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph bacterium that does not respond to commonly used antibiotic treatments. The scientists weren’t holding out much hope that it would work — but they were astonished by the lab results. “What we found was very interesting — we found that Bald’s eyesalve is incredibly potent as an anti-Staphylococcal antibiotic in this context,” Harrison said. “We were going from a mature, established population of a few billion cells, all stuck together in this highly protected biofilm coat, to really just a few thousand cells left alive. This is a massive, massive killing ability.”
The experiment was replicated three more times with the same results.
Diggle said the team also asked collaborators in the U.S. to test the recipe using an “in vivo” wound model — meaning it’s in a live organism — “and basically the big surprise was that it seems to be more effective than conventional antibiotic treatment.”
The salve also appears to retain its potency for a long time after being stored in bottles in a refrigerator.
The team says it now has good, replicated data showing that the medicine kills up to 90% of MRSA bacteria in “in vivo” wound biopsies from mice.
Researchers still do not completely understand how it works but they have some ideas. They postulate there might be several active components in the mixture that work to attack the bacterial cells on different fronts; or that by combining the ingredients and leaving them to steep in alcohol, a new, more potent bacteria-fighting molecule is created in the process.
“I still can’t quite believe how well this 1,000-year-old antibiotic actually seems to be working,” Harrison said. “When we got the first results we were just utterly dumbfounded. We did not see this coming at all.”
She added: “Obviously you can never say with utter certainty that because it works in the lab it’s going to work as an antibiotic, but the potential of this to take on to the next stage and say, ‘yeah, really does it work as an antibiotic’ is just beyond my wildest dreams, to be honest.”
Lee, who translated the text from Old English, believes the discovery could change people’s views of the medieval period known as the “Dark Ages.”
“The Middle Ages are often seen as the ‘Dark Ages’ — we use the term ‘medieval’ these days … as pejorative — and I just wanted to do something that explains to me how people in the Middle Ages looked at science,” she said.