Ancient treatment for eye infections could be cure for superbugs

WATCH: Long before there was modern medicine, ancient cures were concocted for all sorts of ailments. Some worked, but many didn’t. So when researchers in the U.K. revived a 1,000-year-old, revolting recipe to cure eye infections, they were amazed at what it could do. Stuart Greer reports on an old medicine providing new hope to cure a modern-day superbug.

Garlic, onions, wine and cow bile – a medieval concoction once used to treat eye infections could be a modern day answer to fighting stubborn superbugs.

British researchers at Nottingham University say the ancient recipe that’s more than 1,000 years old came from Bald’s Leechbook, a leather-bound text that’s known as one of the oldest medical textbooks. They weren’t sure if the potion could work in killing bacteria but found that it works against MRSA – or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

“We were genuinely astonished at the results of our experiments in the lab. We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings,” Dr. Christina Lee, an associate professor at the university’s institute for medieval research, said in a statement.

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“But the potential for these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science,” she explained.

READ MORE: Canadian docs discover fungus that fights deadly superbugs

For her research, Lee translated the recipe out of an Old English manuscript. It called for garlic, onions or leeks, wine and bile from a cow’s stomach. The concoction had to be boiled in a copper vessel, strained and then left alone for nine days before use.

They made four separate batches then tested their treatment on infected wounds in mice. None of the ingredients on their own helped to kill the MRSA in the injuries, but once the potion was used, the researchers say the superbug was “almost totally obliterated.”

About one bacteria cell in a thousand survived.

READ MORE: New superbug renders antibiotics powerless

The researchers are now wondering what other recipes in these outdated texts could hold keys to treating bacterial infections. They presented their findings this week to microbiologists in England.

Samples of the batches were sent to Texas scientists who say the treatment could be a game-changer in science’s nasty fight against superbugs.

Superbugs received their nickname because they’ve grown resistant to antibiotics.

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READ MORE: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in squid sold in Canadian grocery store

Almost a century ago, Scottish researcher Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and ushered in a wave of new medications, all derived from bacteria in the soil beneath our feet.

Suddenly, pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood infections — ailments that once killed entire communities at a time — became manageable. Antibiotics were dubbed “wonder drugs”: They revolutionized medical care and extended life expectancy.

But we’re still relying on old innovations: Half of the antibiotics prescribed to sick patients today were discovered in the 1950s, Canadian research suggests.

Dr. Gerry Wright, a McMaster University scientist, says there have been virtually no new antibiotics discovered since the 1980s. But if the drugs aren’t evolving, the bugs are: There’s a growing number of “superbugs” that can’t be treated by the existing antibiotics in our arsenal.

READ MORE: We need new antibiotics. Who’s going to pay for them?

“We’re at a very precarious point simply because we don’t have any new drugs coming on board,” Wright told Global News. The latest findings could be a new way for scientists to think outside of the box.

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