London, U.K. – An ancient Anglo-Saxon potion, used to treat eye infections in the 10th-century, has shown the potential to eradicate the modern MRSA superbug, according to research.
The ancient remedy was uncovered in the British Library in a leather-bound edition of what is considered one of the earliest known medical textbooks, Bald’s Leechbook.
The thousand-year-old volume, containing the “eyesalve” treatment, was translated by Christina Lee, an expert on Anglo-Saxon society at the University of Nottingham.
In a video posted to the universities website, Lee explains why this particular recipe was chosen from the book after being translated.
“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.
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. The instructions in the book called for the potion to be left to stand for nine days before being strained through a cloth.
“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 then looked towards the university’s microbiology department to test the efficacy of the formula, recruiting microbiologists to test and recreate the exact recipe described in the text.
“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 research into the formula at the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences.
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.”