Manuka honey could provide the key to a breakthrough treatment for cystic fibrosis patients following preliminary work by experts at Swansea University.
Dr. Rowena Jenkins and Dr. Aled Roberts have found that using Manuka honey could offer an antibiotic alternative to treat antimicrobial resistant respiratory infections, particularly deadly bacteria found in Cystic Fibrosis (CF) infections.
Using lung tissue from pigs, experts tested Manuka honey to treat grown bacterial infections mimicking those seen in CF patients. The results showed that it was effective in killing antimicrobial resistant bacteria by 39 percent compared to 29 percent for antibiotics, whilst improving the activity of some antibiotics that were unable to function effectively by themselves. Honey and antibiotics combined killed 90 percent of the bacteria tested.
CF is a common inherited disease that affects many parts of the body, most commonly the lungs and digestive system. The disease is caused by mutations in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) gene. According to the CF Trust, it is also one of the UK’s most common life-threatening diseases, with around 10,400 people in the country suffering from it. CF has now been reported among Middle Eastern and South Asian patients too.
A UK government review has also highlighted the threat of antimicrobial resistance, estimating that a continued rise in resistance by 2050 would lead to 10 million people dying every year from antimicrobial resistant infections.
Patients with this disease suffer from chronic and long-lasting respiratory infections which often prove fatal due to the presence of certain bacteria that are resistant to many (if not all) the antibiotics that doctors currently have at their disposal.
Bacteria that cannot be removed from the lungs through antibiotic treatment can, as a last resort, be removed by providing patients with newly transplanted lungs. This has some associated risks, however, as the bacteria that caused the original infection can still be found in the upper airway and migrate into the new lungs, making the new transplant ineffective.
Some patients have a worse prognosis as they are infected with deadly types of bacteria, such as Pseudomonas and Burkholderia cepacia complex, which are difficult to kill (due to multiple antibiotic resistance) and cause extensive damage to the lungs. In some instances, the presence of these bacteria within a patient can prevent them from receiving life-saving lung transplants.
The lack of effectiveness of antibiotics against these deadly infections makes the need to find suitable, non-toxic alternatives which are more effective at killing the bacteria, a top priority for researchers.
Honey has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal product. More recently, research has shown that Manuka honey is capable of killing antibiotic resistant bacteria present in surface wounds.
Funding from The Waterloo Foundation and The Hodge Foundation has allowed research to be carried out about Manuka honey as an antibiotic alternative in CF infections.
“The preliminary results are very promising and should these be replicated in the clinical setting then this could open up additional treatment options for those with cystic fibrosis infections,” said Dr Rowena Jenkins, Lecturer in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Swansea University, in a press release issued by the university.
“The synergy with antibiotics and absence of resistance seen in the laboratory has allowed us to move into the current clinical trial, investigating the potential for Manuka honey as part of a sinus rinse for alleviating infection in the upper airway,” she added.