In what is believed to be a world first, scientists have reversed brain damage in a toddler that drowned in a swimming pool. Using oxygen therapy, scientists were able to restore her ability to walk and talk just months after the accident, in which she spent 15 minutes submerged in a swimming pool and two hours… Continue Reading →
As a kid in rural Connecticut in the early 2000s, Kathleen McWilliams was well acquainted with the danger of ticks. After days spent playing outside in the wooded areas around her house, “our home routine was you brushed your teeth, you went to the bathroom, and you did a tick check,” she said. So when, at… Continue Reading →
Nice to know somebody’s funding this important research!
For much of his life, Sarlo suffered from one of depression’s cruelest tortures: anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure. Anhedonia insidiously drains joy from formerly enjoyable social interactions and experiences—and worse, replaces it with dullness, dread, or apprehension.
In fact, Sarlo first realized that he might be depressed when both of his daughters complained about his constant dissatisfaction when they were teenagers. “They would ask, ‘Dad, how come you’re not having fun ever? You never laugh,'” he recalls. It wasn’t until he began to find himself weeping for no discernible reason that he finally sought help—and began a journey that would ultimately take him to places he did not think it possible to reach.
These days, evidence of a psychedelic renaissance is everywhere in America. MDMA—best known as ecstasy, or, more recently, Molly—is set to begin Phase 3 clinical trials for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which means it could be FDA-approved and on the market as early as 2021. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is at a similar stage, with research suggesting it can help with the anxiety and depression associated with cancer, and with quitting smoking.
Ketamine—the club drug, a.k.a. Special K—is already widely used for intractable depression, following a series of trials that showed it could act rapidly, unlike existing antidepressants, which often take weeks to have an effect.
Meanwhile, a YouGov poll this month found that nearly two thirds of American adults would personally be willing to try MDMA, Ketamine, or Psilocybin if it was proven safe to treat a condition they have. And in April, a scientific conference on research about drugs that produce visions, out-of-body and transcendent experiences like ayahuasca, psilocybin and LSD was attended by over 3,000 people—including Tom Insel, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
It was the kind of utterance that makes professional transcribers question their career choice: ” … there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself – and the Russians, zero.” When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the… Continue Reading →
Lasagna. Cheeseburgers. Pizza. Ice cream. Jerry Dotoli has enjoyed them all for most of his 73 years with no discomfort, only pleasure. Until last December, that is. The Ocean County man had gone to Florida for the winter, where he was beset by frequent hives accompanied by a ferocious itching “four times worse than poison ivy.”… Continue Reading →
We all forget things sometimes, whether it’s our car keys or the words to a song. As we age, changes in memory are normal, but we also become more susceptible to memory loss linked to dementia. Now, researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany, suggest a daily dose of THC in marijuana can strengthen brain… Continue Reading →
A potential cure for Type 1 diabetes looms on the horizon – and the novel approach would also allow Type 2 diabetics to stop insulin shots. The treatment totally cured diabetes in mice for an entire year without any side effects. The discovery, made at UT Health San Antonio, works by increasing the types of pancreatic… Continue Reading →
For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the “Dark Ages,” which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.
The evolution of antibiotic-resistant microbes means that it is always necessary to find new drugs to battle microbes that are no longer treatable with current antibiotics. But progress in finding new antibiotics is slow. The drug discovery pipeline is currently stalled. An estimated 700,000 people around the world die annually from drug-resistant infections. If the situation does not change, it is estimated that such infections will kill 10 million people per year by 2050.
I am part of the Ancientbiotics team, a group of medievalists, microbiologists, medicinal chemists, parasitologists, pharmacists and data scientists from multiple universities and countries. We believe that answers to the antibiotic crisis could be found in medical history. With the aid of modern technologies, we hope to unravel how premodern physicians treated infection and whether their cures really worked.
To that end, we are compiling a database of medieval medical recipes. By revealing patterns in medieval medical practice, our database could inform future laboratory research into the materials used to treat infection in the past. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to create a medieval medicines database in this manner and for this purpose.
In 2015, our team published a pilot study on a 1,000-year old recipe called Bald’s eyesalve from “Bald’s Leechbook,” an Old English medical text. The eyesalve was to be used against a “wen,” which may be translated as a sty, or an infection of the eyelash follicle.
A common cause of modern styes is the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA) is resistant to many current antibiotics. Staph and MRSA infections are responsible for a variety of severe and chronic infections, including wound infections, sepsis and pneumonia.
Bald’s eyesalve contains wine, garlic, an Allium species (such as leek or onion) and oxgall. The recipe states that, after the ingredients have been mixed together, they must stand in a brass vessel for nine nights before use.
In our study, this recipe turned out to be a potent antistaphylococcal agent, which repeatedly killed established S. aureus biofilms – a sticky matrix of bacteria adhered to a surface – in an in vitro infection model. It also killed MRSA in mouse chronic wound models.
Premodern European medicine has been poorly studied for its clinical potential, compared with traditional pharmacopeias of other parts of the world. Our research also raises questions about medieval medical practitioners. Today, the word “medieval” is used as a derogatory term, indicating cruel behavior, ignorance or backwards thinking. This perpetuates the myth that the period is unworthy of study.
During our eyesalve study, chemist Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a new therapy for malaria after searching over 2,000 recipes from ancient Chinese literature on herbal medicine. Is another “silver bullet” for microbial infection hidden within medieval European medical literature?
Certainly, there are medieval superstitions and treatments that we would not replicate today, such as purging a patient’s body of pathogenic humors. However, our work suggests that there could be a methodology behind the medicines of medieval practitioners, informed by a long tradition of observation and experimentation.
One key finding was that following the steps exactly as specified by the Bald’s eyesalve recipe – including waiting nine days before use – was crucial for its efficacy. Are the results of this medieval recipe representative of others that treat infection? Were practitioners selecting and combining materials following some “scientific” methodology for producing biologically active cocktails?
Further research may show that some medieval medicines were more than placebos or palliative aids, but actual “ancientbiotics” used long before the modern science of infection control. This idea underlies our current study on the medieval medical text, “Lylye of Medicynes.”
A medieval medicines database
The “Lylye of Medicynes” is a 15th-century Middle English translation of the Latin “Lilium medicinae,” first completed in 1305. It is a translation of the major work of a significant medieval physician, Bernard of Gordon. His “Lilium medicinae” was translated and printed continuously over many centuries, until at least the late 17th century.
The text contains a wealth of medical recipes. In the Middle English translation, there are 360 recipes – clearly indicated with Rx in the text – and many thousands more ingredient names.
As a doctoral student, I prepared the first-ever edition of the “Lylye of Medicynes” and compared the recipes against four extant Latin copies of the “Lilium medicinae.” This involved faithfully copying the Middle English text from the medieval manuscript, then editing that text for a modern reader, such as adding modern punctuation and correcting scribal errors. The “Lylye of Medicynes” is 245 folios, which equates to 600 pages of word-processed text.
I loaded the Middle English names of ingredients into a database, along with translations into modern equivalents, juxtaposed with relationships to recipe and disease. It is very time-consuming to format medieval data for processing with modern technologies. It also takes time to translate medieval medical ingredients into modern equivalents, due in part to multiple synonyms as well as variations in modern scientific nomenclature for plants. This information has to be verified across many sources.
With our database, we aim to find combinations of ingredients that occur repeatedly and are specifically used to treat infectious diseases. To achieve this, we are employing some common tools of data science, such as network analysis, a mathematical method to examine the relationships between entries. Our team will then examine how these patterns may help us to use medieval texts as inspiration for lab tests of candidate “ancientbiotic” recipes.
In March, we tested a small portion of the database to ensure that the method we developed was appropriate for this data set. At present, the database contains only the 360 recipes indicated with Rx. Now that the proof-of-concept stage is complete, I will expand the database to contain other ingredients which are clearly in recipe format, but may not be marked with Rx.
We are specifically interested in recipes associated with recognizable signs of infection. With Bald’s eyesalve, the combination of ingredients proved to be crucial. By examining the strength of ingredient relationships, we hope to find out whether medieval medical recipes are driven by certain combinations of antimicrobial ingredients.
The database could direct us to new recipes to test in the lab in our search for novel antibiotics, as well as inform new research into the antimicrobial agents contained in these ingredients on the molecular level. It could also deepen our understanding of how medieval practitioners “designed” recipes. Our research is in the beginning stages, but it holds exciting potential for the future.
It’s one souvenir you really don’t want to bring home CDC Angiostrongylus cantonensis larva You may have read a thing or two lately about the oh-so-grossly-named rat lungworm. This brain parasite isn’t new, but only became routine in the United States in recent years. Angiostrongylus cantonensis favors tropical climes, and used to crop up only in… Continue Reading →
And I mentioned all the crazy food sensitivities. I told her it all started after I got my gall bladder out, and asked if there was any connection.
She laughed. “Oh yes, there’s a well-known connection,” she said. “You no longer have the same emulsifiers that help digest food.”
Despite my many, many questions about this in the past few years, this is the first time a doctor has shared this information. Uninformed — or doesn’t give a shit?
So that’s good news. My immune system isn’t going crazy; I’m not digesting properly. That’s a problem I can probably work with.