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A potential new treatment combining natural manuka honey with a widely used drug has been developed by Aston University scientists to treat a potentially deadly lung infection and significantly reduce the side effects of one of the current drugs used to treat it.

The findings are published in the journal microbiologyshow that scientists from the Mycobacteria Research Group at Aston University’s College of Health and Life Sciences have been able to combine manuka honey and the drug amikacin in a laboratory spray formulation to treat the harmful bacterial lung infection Mycobacterium abscessus.

Manuka honey has long been known to have a wide range of medicinal properties, but recently it has been found to have broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity. Scientists have now discovered that manuka honey has the potential to kill a number of drug-resistant bacterial infections such as Mycobacterium abscessus – which commonly affect patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) or bronchiectasis.

Manuka honey may help clear deadly drug-resistant lung infection – study. Credit: Society for Microbiology

According to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease affecting around 10,800 people – one in every 2,500 babies born in the UK – and there are more than 100,000 people with the condition worldwide. The NHS defines bronchiectasis as a long-term condition where the airways of the lungs widen, causing excess mucus to build up, which can make the lungs more vulnerable to infection.

In the study, researchers used samples of the bacterium Mycobacterium abscessus taken from 16 infected CF patients. They then tested the antibiotic amikacin combined with manuka honey to find the dose needed to kill the bacteria.

As part of the study, the team used a laboratory lung model and a nebulizer, a device that produces a fine spray of liquid often used to inhale a medicinal drug. By nebulizing manuka honey and amikacin together, it was found that they could improve bacterial clearance even when lower doses of amikacin were used, resulting in fewer life-changing side effects for the patient.

In the UK, of the 10,800 people living with cystic fibrosis, Mycobacterium abscessus infects 13% of all patients with the disease. This new approach is advantageous not only because it has the potential to eradicate a highly drug-resistant infection, but also because of the reduced side effects, favoring the quality of life and greatly improving the chances of survival of infected CF patients.

Mycobacterium abscessus is a bacterial pathogen in the same family that causes tuberculosis, but this bug differs in that it causes serious lung infections in people (especially children) with pre-existing lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis, as well as causing skin and soft tissue infections . The bacterium is also highly resistant to drugs.

Currently, patients are given an antibiotic cocktail consisting of 12 or more months of antimicrobial chemotherapy, and this treatment often does not lead to a cure. The dosage of amikacin that is usually used on a patient to kill the infection is 16 micrograms per milliliter. But the researchers found that the new combination, using manuka honey, required a dose of just 2 micrograms per milliliter of amikacin, resulting in a one-eighth reduction in the dose of the drug.

Until now, Mycobacterium abscessus has been virtually impossible to eradicate in people with cystic fibrosis. It can also be fatal if the patient needs a lung transplant, as they are ineligible for surgery if the infection is present.

Commenting on their findings, lead author and Dr. researcher Victoria Nolan said: “Until now, treating lung infections with Mycobacterium abscessus can be problematic due to its drug resistance. The variety of antibiotics needed to fight the infection leads to[s] with severe side effects.

“However, the use of this potential treatment combining amikacin and manuka honey shows great promise as an improved therapy for these terrible lung infections.”

“There is a need for better treatment outcomes, and in the future we hope that this potential treatment can be tested further.”

Dr Jonathan Cox, senior lecturer in microbiology at Aston University, said: “By combining an all-natural ingredient such as manuka honey with amikacin, one of the most important but toxic drugs used to treat Mycobacterium abscessus, we have found a way to potentially kill these bacteria with eight times less drug than before. This has the potential to significantly reduce hearing loss associated with amikacin and greatly improve the quality of life for so many patients – especially those with cystic fibrosis.

“I am pleased with the outcome of this study because it paves the way for future experiments and we hope that with funding we can move to clinical trials that could lead to a change in treatment strategy for this debilitating infection.”

Dr Peter Cotgreave, Chief Executive of the Society for Microbiology, said: “The Society for Microbiology is proud to support the scientific community as it explores innovative solutions to tackle the growing global challenge of antimicrobial resistance. This study demonstrates one of the many ways microbiologists are pioneering new methods to tackle drug-resistant infections by incorporating natural products, such as manuka honey, into existing therapies.”

A new treatment kills an infection that can be deadly for cystic fibrosis patients

More info:
Victoria C. Nolan et al, In vitro synergy between manuka honey and amikacin against Mycobacterium abscessus complex shows potential for nebulized therapy, microbiology (2022). DOI: 10.1099/mic.0.001237

Provided by Aston University

Quote: Manuka honey may help clear deadly drug-resistant lung infection, research shows (2022, September 7) Retrieved September 7, 2022 from

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