Could the cure to a deadly modern superbug lie in the past?
Scientists at the University of Nottingham recreated a 1,000-year-old Anglo-Saxon treatment for eye infections and tested the treatment on a modern-day superbug: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
Christina Lee, an expert on Anglo-Saxon history at the university, partnered with microbiologists to test whether the ancient recipe could work on MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bug caused by a strain of staph bacteria.
Lee told USA TODAY Network that one reason she decided to translate the recipe was because it contained garlic, which is thought to have potential antibiotic effectiveness.
The recipe calls for garlic, onion or leek, wine and bile from a cow's stomach, all brewed in a brass vessel.
"We followed the recipe as closely as we could," Lee said. "The ingredients don't work on their own - it isn't a single one, but the combination of ingredients that works."
The university researchers tested the concoction on cultures of MRSA in the University of Nottingham lab. The medieval potion was also tested on MRSA skin wounds in mice at Texas Tech University.
Although the researchers were skeptical about the treatment's effectiveness, they found that three identical batches of the solution created the same results. The solution killed up to 90% of MRSA bacteria in the infected mice.
"We let our artificial 'infections' grow into dense, mature populations called 'biofilms,' where the individual cells bunch together and make a sticky coating that makes it hard for antibiotics to reach them," Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, said in a statement. "But unlike many modern antibiotics, Bald's eye salve has the power to breach these defenses."
The AncientBiotics team at the University of Nottingham seeks more funding to extend the research. The study will be presented at the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham, England on Wednesday.
Lee says she thinks many modern medical ailments may have treatments or cures buried in past remedies.
"Of course there are bizarre things in some of these recipes when we judge them today, but people observed some of these treatments work, and we've seen that it can work even today," Lee said.
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