What I learnt this week part 4 (Guest blog by Elinor Bridges)

Elinor BridgesHi everyone! For the last time, I will be talking you through what I learn this week. Given that it’s Easter, expect a lot of older things that have been squeezed out of my memory after going over my old notes, a few titbits from the lectures I dozed off in this semester, and maybe even something from the news. What did I finally decide to write about? You’re not going to find out if you stop reading after the introduction…

Double, double, toil and trouble!

I will start this off by being completely honest with you all: when I first read this news story, I was completely enthralled. It was almost unbelievable…then I began to get suspicious. Were the details of this experiment, announced on various websites on March 31st, an early April Fool? As the day went on, I became more convinced that actually, this was too good to have been true. I eagerly awaited the news that it had all been a hoax, however, none came. Therefore, to the best of my knowledge, what I am about to impart is fact. If it should be revealed that this was all a big joke (or it already has and I’ve just missed the memo), I beg your forgiveness. As a hoax, I must say it is really rather good, and even more so if not.

Scanning electron micrograph of a human neutrophil ingesting MRSA National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)It has been reported that academics at the University of Nottingham have discovered a potential new/old method of destroying the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. An antibiotic resistant strain of this bacteria is responsible for disease MRSA, and other strains can be the culprit of conditions such as food poisoning and boils. It is also responsible for some eye infections, and this is where our story begins.

Allegedly, a conversation between a microbiologist and an Anglo-Saxon historian at the University of Nottingham led to the historian mentioning a very old remedy to soothe the eyes -an eye salve. The microbiologist decided it might be interesting to recreate the potion and see if it had any anti-microbial properties. The list of instructions appeared rather complex and involved leaving the potion to rest for nine days and addition of ingredients such as leeks and wine. Once the microbiologists-turned-witches were satisfied with their brew, the testing began. The resulting slime was tested on pieces of skin taken from mice with MRSA. Here comes the shocker: it worked.

It’s been claimed that around 90% of the antibiotic resistant bacteria were killed by the potion, approximately the same percentage as are killed by the primary antibiotic used in the treatment of MRSA in humans. Considering antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasing problem for the modern world, this could be a huge step forward in the effort to find alternative medicines that, in the long term, won’t do more harm than good. The scientists reported that one interesting point to note about the potion was that it smelt of garlic – something wicked this way comes!

Some people have better humour(s) than others…
Stretching right back to a Bodies in History lecture form week two, I rediscovered the concept of the four humours. Interested by this, I went on to do some further reading into the topic, and here I am to report my findings.

In ancient Greek and Roman medicine, one of the main concepts related to person’s state of health was the four humours. The Aristotlefour humours, usually attributed in part to Aristotle and Galen, were four liquids that were present in the body: blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. For a person to be in good health, their individual balance of the humours must be correct. Imbalance, naturally, led to disease. But it doesn’t stop there – the theory of the humours became extremely embellished to the point where it seems that there were few factors that weren’t involved. For example, each of the humours had qualities which were related to the seasons, the environment, the four elements, your personality and maybe even how you looked. It was assumed that each person had their own set-up of humours that was formed at conception, and this differed between individuals. Therefore, rather than simply assessing symptoms, doctors were concerned with all of the factors mentioned above too – talk about getting personal!

Various elements of the humours persisted in medicine for many hundreds of years. Unfortunately, the treatments they offered where not always useful. For example, it was thought that some diseases were a result of too much blood in the body, so one treatment might be placing leeches on the body to suck out the excess – what a lovely way to recharge your batteries!

 

And on that note, now we must conclude the series that I have been forcing upon you over the last month. I have enjoyed sharing what I’ve learnt with you, and I hope I’ve made it somewhat more interesting that it would have been from a thick book with no pictures and lots of long words. Enjoy the rest of your Easter break, and hopefully your rest and recuperation won’t involve leaches. Farewell!