Manuka honey could kill drug resistant bacteria in cystic fibrosis infections

Manuka honey could provide the key to a breakthrough treatment for cystic fibrosis following preliminary work by researchers 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 infections.

Swansea University reports, using lung tissue from pigs, researchers treated grown bacterial infections mimicking those seen in cystic fibrosis with Manuka honey. They found it was 39% effective in killing antimicrobial resistant bacteria, compared to 29% for antibiotics, while improving the activity of some antibiotics that were unable to function effectively by themselves. Honey and antibiotics combined killed 90% of the bacteria tested.

Cystic fibrosis is one of the UK’s most common life threatening inherited diseases. It affects about ten thousand four hundred people in the UK, according to the CF Trust.

A government review led by Lord Jim O’Neill has highlighted the threat of antimicrobial resistance, estimating a continued rise in resistance by 2050 would lead to ten million people dying each year from antimicrobial resistant infections.

People with cystic fibrosis can get 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 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, thus making the transplant ineffective.

Some people have a worse prognosis because they’re 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 cases their presence can prevent someone receiving life saving lung transplants.

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 look at it as an antibiotic alternative in cystic fibrosis infections.

Dr Rowena Jenkins, Lecturer in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Swansea University, said “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. 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.”

This research was first published in Frontiers in Microbiology. Swansea University is currently sponsoring a clinical trial for this research which runs for another twelve months.

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