If the “leech” doctors circa 1000AD were able to treat superbugs that modern doctors struggle with, I wonder what other knowledge has come and gone and had to be rediscovered?
How many lives have been lost because information was not there when they needed it?
Judith Curry posted a link this week to a story about a medieval recipe for an “eyesalve” that rather surprised researchers when it worked against the ghastly MRSA superbug, which is resistant to almost all modern antibiotics.
The book is one of the earliest known medical texts, called Bald’s Leechbook. The recipe called for garlic, onion, wine, and bile from a cow. It was very specific — the mix had to be brewed in brass and then left for nine days. The researchers at the University of Nottingham followed it closely, then it was tested in the lab. Will it work on people, and what are the side-effects?
I wonder if the nine day wait is an incubation period for microbial growth? Some of our best antibiotics come from fungus like penicillin and the cephalosporins– which has had five hundred million years or so to figure out uber-tricky ways to kill competitors and pests. Perhaps the stew gets the conditions right for one particular type of mould to grow? Though the story doesn’t mention that (and I would expect the researchers would have looked for it). They suggest it may be a slow chemical reaction.
After closely following the instructions to recreate the exact recipe, researchers then began to test the formula on MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, cultures. MRSA is commonly referred to as a superbug, as antibiotic treatments are largely ineffective in treatment.
Not holding out much hope for the ancient potion, researchers were amazed by the results of their lab tests.
“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 research team then asked its U.S. collaborators to test the formula using “in vivo,” a wound in live organism, and according to Steve Diggle, an associate professor of socio microbiology, who also worked on the project, “the big surprise was that it seems to be more effective than conventional antibiotic treatment.”