Scientists have been “dumbfounded” at the killing ability of the potion - an ancient cure for eye infections dating back to the 10th Century - after a series of tests in Britain and the US during the past year.
That the Anglo-Saxon recipe, which includes wine, garlic, and bile from a cow’s stomach, could hold the key to defeating MRSA came about after a chance discussion between experts at the University of Nottingham last year.
During a meeting of academics interested in infectious diseases, Dr Christina Lee, an expert in Old English, told microbiologists about Bald’s Leechbook – an Anglo-Saxon medical textbook kept in the British Library which contains remedies for treating infections and other ailments.
Dr Lee translated a recipe for treating styes – an infection of an eyelash usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus - and the past year has seen researchers painstakingly recreate it and test it on MRSA.
The thousand-year-old remedy has proven to be an “incredibly potent” antibiotic, according to lead researcher Dr Freya Harrison, a microbiologist from the University of Nottingham.
The individual ingredients alone did not have any measurable effect but when combined according to the ancient text, they killed up to 90 per cent of MRSA bacteria in infected mice. And in infections grown in the laboratory, only about one bacterial cell in a thousand survived.
“I still can’t quite believe how well this one thousand year old antibiotic actually seems to be working, when we got the first results we were just utterly dumbfounded. We did not see this coming at all,” commented Dr Harrison.
“Modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings. But the potential of these texts to contribute to addressing the challenges cannot be understood without the combined expertise of both the arts and science,” commented Dr Lee.
Dr Kendra Rumbaugh, a microbiologist at Texas Tech University who was part of the research team, commented: “These types of wound infections are very difficult to treat, and given that most of the agents we have previously tested displayed little to no efficacy, I was quite skeptical. However, this ‘ancient’ solution performed better than the current ‘gold standard’ (vancomycin) and killed more than 90% of the MRSA in the wounds.”