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Even in the age of AIDS, avian flu and Ebola, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, is terrifying.
|MRSA attacks a human cell. The bacteria shown is the strain MRSA 252, a leading cause of hospital-associated infections. (Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH)|
The superbug, which is resistant to conventional antibiotics because of their overuse, shrugs at even the deadliest weapons modern medicine offers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated MRSA contributed to the deaths of more than 5,000 people in the United States in 2013. It even attacked the NFL, and some say it could eventually kill more people than cancer. And presidential commissions have advised that technological progress is the only way to fight MRSA.
But researchers in the United Kingdom now report that the superbug proved vulnerable to an ancient remedy. The ingredients? Just a bit of garlic, some onion or leek, copper, wine and oxgall — a florid name for cow’s bile.
This medicine sounds yucky, but it’s definitely better than the bug it may be able to kill.
“We were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” Freya Harrison of the University of Nottingham, who worked on the research, told the BBC.
The oxgall remedy, billed as an eye salve, was found in a manuscript written in Old English from the 10th century called “Bald’s Leechbook” — a sort of pre-Magna Carta physician’s desk reference. Garlic and copper are commonly thought to have antibiotic or antimicrobial properties, but seeing such ingredients in a home remedy at Whole Foods is a far cry from researchers killing a superbug with it.
According to Christina Lee, an associate professor in Viking studies at Nottingham, the MRSA research was the product of conversations among academics of many stripes interested in infectious disease and how people fought it before antibiotics.
“We were talking about the specter of antibiotic resistance,” she told The Washington Post in a phone interview. The medical researchers involved in the discussions said to the medievalists: “In your period, you guys must have had something.”
Not every recipe in Bald’s Leechbook is a gem. Other advice, via a translation from the Eastern Algo-Saxonist: “Against a woman’s chatter; taste at night fasting a root of radish, that day the chatter cannot harm thee.” And: “In case a man be a lunatic; take skin of a mereswine or porpoise, work it into a whip, swinge the man therewith, soon he will be well. Amen.”
Though the Leechbook may include misses, it may help doctors find a solution to a problem that only seems to be getting worse.
If the oxgall remedy proves effective against MRSA outside of the lab — which researchers caution it may not — it would be a godsend. Case studies of MRSA’s impact from the CDC’s charmingly named Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report seem medieval.
“In July 1997, a 7-year-old black girl from urban Minnesota was admitted to a tertiary-care hospital with a temperature of 103 F.” Result: Death from pulmonary hemorrhage after five weeks of hospitalization.
“In January 1998, a 16-month-old American Indian girl from rural North Dakota was taken to a local hospital in shock and with a temperature of 105.2 F.” Result: After respiratory failure and cardiac arrest, death within two hours of hospital admission.
“In January 1999, a 13-year-old white girl from rural Minnesota was brought to a local hospital with fever, hemoptysis” — that’s coughing up blood — “and respiratory distress.” The result: Death from multiple organ failure after seven days in the hospital.
“We believe modern research into disease can benefit from past responses and knowledge, which is largely contained in non-scientific writings,” Lee told the Telegraph. “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.”
Lee stressed that it was the combination of ingredients that proved effective against MRSA — which shows that people living in medieval times were not as barbaric as popularly thought. Even 1,000 years ago, when people got sick, other people tried to figure out how to help.
“We associate ‘medieval’ with dark, barbaric,” Lee said. “… It’s not. I’ve always believed in the pragmatic medieval ages.”
The research will be presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham. In an abstract for the conference, the team cautioned oxgall was no cure-all.
“Antibacterial activity of a substance in laboratory trials does not necessarily mean the historical remedy it was taken from actually worked in toto,” they wrote.
Lee said researchers hope to turn to other remedies in Bald’s Leechbook — including purported cures for headaches and ulcers — to see what other wisdom the ancients have to offer.
“At a time when you don’t have microscope, medicine would have included things we find rather odd,” she said. “In 200 years, people will judge us.”
Excerpt from foxnews.com/science A rare planet has been discovered, and it doesn’t seem like a stop anyone would want to make on an intergalactic cruise. Found by two research teams independently of each other, Kepler-432b is extreme in its mass, density, and weather. Roughly the same size of Jupiter, the planet is also doomed- in 200 million years it will be consumed by its sun. “Kepler-432b is definitively a rarity among exoplanets around giant stars: it is a close-in gas-giant planet orbiting a star whose radius is 'quickly' increasing,” Davide Gandolfi, from the Landessternwarte Koenigstuhl (part of the Centre for Astronomy of the University of Heidelberg), told FoxNews.com. “The orbit of the planet has a radius of about 45 million kilometers [28 million miles] (as a reference point, the Earth-Sun distance is about 150 million kilometers [93.2 Million miles]), while most of the planets known to orbit giant stars have wider orbits. The stellar radius is already 3 million kilometers [almost 2 million miles] (i.e., about 4 times the Sun radius) and in less than 200 million years it will be large enough for the star to swallow up its planet.”Gandolfi, a member of one of the research groups who discovered the rare planet, explains that much like Jupiter, Kepler-432b is a gas-giant celestial body composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, and is most likely to have a dense core that accounts for 6 percent or less of the planet’s mass. “The planet has a mass six times that of Jupiter, but is about the same size!” he says. “This means that it is not one of the largest planets yet discovered: it is one of the most massive!” The planet’s orbit brings it extremely close to its host star on some occasions, and very far away at others, which creates extreme seasonal changes. In its year - which lasts 52 Earth days - winters can get a little chilly and summers a bit balmy, to say the least. According to Gandolfi, “The highly eccentric orbit brings Kepler-432b at ‘only’ 24 million kilometers [15 million miles] from its host star, before taking it to about three times as far away. This creates large temperature excursions over the course of the planet year, which is of only 52 Earth days. During the winter season, the temperature on Kepler-432b drops down to 500 degrees Celsius [932 degrees Fahrenheit], whereas in summer it can goes up to nearly 1000 degrees Celsius [1832 degrees Fahrenheit].”Then again, if you are crazy enough to visit Kepler-432b, you’d better do it fast. As stated before, its host star is set to swallow the planet whole in 200 million years, making the celestial body a rare find. “The paucity of close-in planets around giant stars is likely to be due to the fact that these planets have been already swallowed up by their host stars,” Gandolfi says. “Kepler-432b has been discovered ‘just in time before dinner!” The host star, which is red and possesses 1.35 times the mass of our sun, has partly exhausted the nuclear fuel in its core, and is slowly expanding, eventually growing large enough to swallow Kepler-432b. According to Gandolfi, this is a natural progression for all stars. “Stars first generate nuclear energy in their core via the fusion of Hydrogen into Helium,” he explained. “At this stage, their radii basically do not change much. This is because the outward thermal pressure produced by the nuclear fusion in the core is balanced by the inward pressure of gravitational collapse from the overlying layers. In other words, the nuclear power is the star pillar! Our Sun is currently ‘burning’ hydrogen in its core (please note that I used quotes: ‘burning’ does not mean a chemical reaction- we are talking about nuclear fusion reaction). However, this equilibrium between the two pressures does not last forever. Helium is heavier than hydrogen and tends to sink. The stellar core of the Kepler-432b's host star is currently depleted of hydrogen and it is mainly made of inert helium. The star generates thermal energy in a shell around the core through the nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium. As a result of this, the star expands and cools down. This is why we call it ‘red giant’- the reddish color comes from the fact that the external layers of the atmosphere of the star are cooling down because they expand.”Both research teams (the other was from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg) used Calar Alto Observatory’s 7.2- foot telescope in Andalucia, Spain. The planet was also studied by Landessternwarte Koenigstuhl researchers using the 8.5-foot Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma, which is located in Spain’s Canary Islands.
|Illustration provided by the University of Heidelberg of the orbit of Kepler-432b (inner, red) in comparison to the orbit of Mercury around the Sun (outer, orange). The red dot in the middle indicates the position of the star around which the planet is orbiting. The size of the star is shown to scale, while the size of the planet has been magnified ten times for illustration purposes. (Graphic: Dr. Sabine Reffert)|