The Week That Wasn't: Healing Honey, Restored Limb Function, Anti-Cancer Anthrax

Donavyn Coffey


December 06, 2019

This week the internet was abuzz with tales of honey's healing power, a new solution for spinal cord injuries, and using anthrax against cancer. Here's why you didn't see those headlines on Medscape.

Honey's Healing Power?

It's feasible to use Manuka honey, spread in tiny amounts between layers of surgical mesh, to kill bacteria, a new study suggests. The mesh that facilitates soft tissue healing can also enable bacterial infections by providing a surface for bacteria to construct their biofilms. These infections are typically treated with antibiotics, but in light of increasing antimicrobial resistance, scientists went in search of alternative ways to ward off bacteria.

The researchers "sandwiched" eight layers of negatively charged Manuka honey between eight layers of positively charged polymer. In the lab, the honey was slowly released over time, staving off bacterial infections for 3 weeks.

The honey-mesh sandwiches were tested in vitro on different soft tissue lines against a range of infections like MRSA, Staphylococcus, and E coli. But that's a long way from trials in human beings. Honey might keep bacteria out, but it can also kill the cells you're trying to heal. The researchers say they have achieved a safe, slow release, but we would need to see safety and efficacy results from a clinical trial before we covered this research.

Gabapentin and Limb Function

Long-term use of gabapentin, commonly prescribed for nerve pain, may restore limb function after a spinal cord injury, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. The research, conducted in mice, showed that animals receiving the drug regained 60% of their forelimb function compared with 30% spontaneous recovery in the mice who received the placebo.

The drug blocks the activity of a protein directly involved in the growth of axons. However, the mice were on the drug for 4 months before they started to regain limb function — that's equivalent to 9 years in an adult human. While it's noteworthy that an already approved — and commonly used — drug might have another important clinical application, a mouse study is not enough to warrant coverage at Medscape. There are clearly years of testing ahead before we know whether this drug works for this purpose in humans.

Anthrax Against Cancer

Researchers at Purdue University are looking for ways to circumvent invasive and lengthy bladder cancer treatments. In their recent article, they mobilized the anthrax toxin. Because bladder cancers overexpress epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), the researchers used it as a target. Their findings showed that in as few as 3 minutes, the EGFR-targeted anthrax could send human, mouse, and canine bladder cancer cells into apoptosis.

The toxin was able to eliminate cells taken from a human tumor and to reduce tumor size in dogs that had failed or were not eligible for other treatments. The toxin reduced treatment time from hours to minutes, and the authors suggest that it could be used for other types of cancers, like lung and skin.

There were no toxic effects when tumor-free dogs and mice were exposed to the anthrax treatment, but we wouldn't cover this research until it was in advanced clinical trials. This research on its own doesn't inform how busy oncologists should treat the bladder cancer patients they are seeing today.

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