1,000-Year-Old Eye Infection Salve May Kill MRSA Super Bug, Study Shows

PHOTO:A page from Balds Leechbook, posted on The British Library Board, containing a recipe for an eye salve that may fight against super bug infections.The British Library Board
A page from Bald's Leechbook, posted on The British Library Board, containing a recipe for an eye salve that may fight against super bug infections.

A relatively new super bug may have met its match in a 1,000-year-old eye treatment, according to researchers from the University of Nottingham.

The recipe to cure eye infections comes from "Bald’s Leechbook," an old English leather-bound tome that was buried deep within the British Library in London. When scientists painstakingly followed a step-by-step recipe to recreate the old world salve, they found it killed over 90 percent of a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- also known as the MRSA bacteria -- that was grown in a petri dish of mouse cells.

The tenth-century concoction contained two species of allium (garlic, plus either onion or leek), wine from a vineyard that has existed since the ninth century and oxgall, the bile from a cow’s stomach. A very specific set of instructions included brewing the solution in a brass vessel, straining it through a cloth and then letting the mixture sit for nine days before use.

The researchers concluded it wasn’t one particular ingredient that did the trick but rather the entire recipe.

“We thought that Bald’s eye salve might show a small amount of antibiotic activity, because each of the ingredients has been shown by other researchers to have some effect on bacteria in the lab," Freya Harrison, one of the lead Nottingham researchers, said in a statement. “But we were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was.”

Each year, 90,000 Americans suffer from invasive MRSA infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has become one of the most antibiotic-resistant bugs known, costing billions of dollars in health care spending and killing about 20,000 yearly. The CDC says MRSA is a particular threat in hospital settings, though in recent years infections from the deadly bacteria have declined by over 50 percent.

While the results of the experiment are intriguing, the team is looking for more funding to see if the treatment has any practical application in the real world. The preliminary results done using the simple mouse cells were presented at the annual conference of the Society for General Microbiology in Birmingham earlier this week.