Researchers from Newcastle University have come up with a novel way of dealing with the infections patients tend to get after surgery.
They believe that honey – specifically, a medical-grade variant of manuka honey – could be the key to coping with this common problem.
Doctors often use surgical mesh to help soft tissues to heal following surgery. The use of mesh is particularly common after operations for issues like hernias.
However, while the mesh promotes healing, it increases the risk of bacterial infections as harmful bacteria can enter the body by forming films on the mesh’s surface.
Skin and soft tissue infections account for around 10% of hospital admissions, a figure which includes people suffering from secondary infections after operations.
Such infections are normally dealt with via antibiotics, but the emergence of antibiotic- resistant bugs has prompted scientists to look for alternatives.
Now a team led by Dr Piergiorgio Gentile from Newcastle University and Dr Elena Mancuso from Ulster University are suggesting the solution might lie in coating the layers of the mesh with honey.
They found that by placing eight nanolayers of manuka honey (with a negative charge) between eight layers of polymer (with a positive charge), it was possible to form an electrostatic nanocoating that would restrict the growth of bacteria, thanks to the honey being gradually released into the patient’s body.
In the journal Frontiers, the team argue that there could be benefits to infusing medical implants with manuka honey in the future.
Honey has long been known to have health benefits and was smeared on infected wounds in ancient times.
A 1991 study in New Zealand found that manuka honey – collected from bees that forage on wild manuka trees – was the variety of honey with the best anti-bacterial properties. This is because manuka honey contains a special ingredient – called methylglyoxal – which has antimicrobial functions.
Dr Gentile said, “By sandwiching the honey in a multilayer coating on the mesh surface and slowly releasing it, the aim is to inhibit the growth of the bacteria and stop the infection before it even starts.”
“These results are really very exciting. Honey has been used to treat infected wounds for thousands of years, but this is the first time it has been shown to be effective at fighting infection in cells from inside the body.”
“Too little honey and it won’t be enough to fight the infection, but too much honey can kill the cells. By creating this 16-layered ‘charged sandwich’, we were able to make sure the honey was released in a controlled way over two to three weeks, which should give the wound time to heal free of infection.”
Dr Mancuso said, “With our study, we have demonstrated the promising combination of a naturally-derived antibacterial agent with a nanotechnology approach, which may be translated to the design and development of novel medical devices with advanced functionality.”