The leaves of the chestnut tree may hold the key to dealing with anti-biotic resistant bugs like MRSA.
The HSE admits that “antibiotic resistance is an everyday problem in all hospitals across Ireland”.
Now European chestnut tree leaves have been found to contain a compound that blocks Staphylococcus aureus, the drug resistant bug which causes MRSA.
The compound does not kill the bug but “works by taking away staph’s weapons, essentially shutting off the ability of the bacteria to create toxins that cause tissue damage”, says researcher Cassandra Quave, an ethnobotanist at Emory University.
The discovery holds potential for new ways to treat and prevent MRSA infections without contributing to the growing problems of drug resistant bacteria.
MRSA infections lead to everything from mild skin irritations to fatalities. New strains of this “super bug” pose threats to both hospital patients with compromised immune systems and young, healthy athletes and others who are in close physical contact.
“We’ve demonstrated in the lab that our extract disarms even the hyper-virulent MRSA strains capable of causing serious infections in healthy athletes,” Quave says.
“At the same time, the extract doesn’t disturb the normal, healthy bacteria on human skin. It’s all about restoring balance.”
Quave researches the interactions of people and plants – a specialty known as ethnobotany.
For years, she and her colleagues have researched the traditional remedies of rural people in Southern Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.
“I felt strongly that people who dismissed traditional healing plants as medicine because the plants don’t kill a pathogen were not asking the right questions,” she says.
“What if these plants play some other role in fighting a disease?”
Her chestnut tree discovery arose when “Local people and healers repeatedly told us how they would make a tea from the leaves of the chestnut tree and wash their skin with it to treat skin infections and inflammations,” Quave says.
The Emory Office of Technology Transfer has filed a patent for the discovery of the unique properties of the botanical extract. The researchers are doing further testing on individual components of the extract to determine if they work best in combination or alone.
“It’s easy to dismiss traditional remedies as old wives’ tales, just because they don’t attack and kill pathogens,” Quave says. “But there are many more ways to help cure infections, and we need to focus on them in the era of drug-resistant bacteria.”