The AncientBiotics Project – testing medieval remedies to treat contemporary pathogens

Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK investigated a formulation was a 10th century remedy for eye infections from Bald’s Leechbook to treat MRSA. The main ingredients include garlic, alliums, wine, and oxgall (cow bile), steeped for 9 days.

So far, the research seems promising. The data is not yet available, but the investigators claim that Bald’s eyesalve-

  • eradicated of 90% of MRSA cells in vivo (murine wound infection model),
  • penetrated biofilms,

Furthermore, a dilution did not eradicate but inhibited quorum sensing and the ingredients tested as sole agents did not demonstrate the same antimicrobial effects. 

Now, this is preclinical in vitro and in vivo research–the clinical significance is not clear. The mechanisms of action have not been elucidated by the team, but they suspect the complex array of antimicrobial compounds target bacterial reproduction and biofilm formation in several ways. And from our knowledge of phytochemical complexity and systems biology, this would seem to make sense. The findings were presented the findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology on 3/30/15.

Not only do I find this type of research collaboration (medieval studies and microbiology) fascinating, but I think the applications to antibiotic resistant bacteria are very relevant and important. I think future treatments for antibiotic resistant bacteria will be complex and target multiple aspects of the infection cascade. This is a great partnership and promising field–and I look forward to more developments.

About Author

Renée A. Davis MA RH is a designer and educator in botanical and mycological medicine. Her training began at the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in New York City and concluded in biomedical sciences at the University of Washington. She currently directs research and development for a nutraceutical mushroom company in the Pacific Northwest.

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