The Buzz in Chronic Wound Treatment

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Science Translational Medicine  27 Feb 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 174, pp. 174ec36
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005908

Honey is all the buzz lately in treating chronic skin infections, thanks to recent research by Lu and colleagues. Many chronic infections show only limited response to traditional antibiotics, and some antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains are fully tolerant of these drugs. Lu and coauthors now show that honey may be a sweet solution to preventing bacterial growth commonly associated with skin wound infections.

Honey is known to exhibit antimicrobial activities that are distinct from the actions of traditional antibiotics. The authors examined New Zealand honey samples made from nectar of kanuka, manuka, and clover flowers for growth inhibition of four different bacterial species: Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli (hemorrhagic strain O157:H7), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Growth of all species was inhibited by honey, but P. aeruginosa was the least affected. Manuka honeys that contained the greatest amounts of the reactive molecule called methylglyoxal appeared to stop bacterial growth more than did other varieties. After examining the bacterial cells in more detail, Lu et al. found that honey promoted a shortening of cell length, and for the Gram-positive bacteria (B. subtilis and S. aureus), treatment with honey led to condensing of their chromosomal DNA.

This study suggests that honey may be a useful addition to dressings of chronic wounds to limit the growth of bacteria. Before moving into people, the mechanism of honey action needs to be explored further, especially to determine which honey varieties have greater efficacy against all pathogens. Nonetheless, this natural product holds promise as a new antimicrobial strategy to treat the growing number of resistant chronic wounds and other topical bacterial infections.

J. Lu et al., The effect of New Zealand kanuka, manuka and clover honeys on bacterial growth dynamics and cellular morphology varies according to the species. PLoS ONE 8, e55898 (2013). [Full Text]

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