Experts say bees hold the secret to tackling human infections
Now scientists are examining whether another #bee product could help mankind fight off infections such as E.coli and diseases like malaria.
Dr David Watson, a bee expert from Strathclyde University’s Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said a lesser known aspect of the insect was that they collected a substance called #propolis from the plants they land on.
The resinous substance is produced by plants to ward off infections and bees spread it on the inside of their hives to do the same.The anti-bacterial properties of propolis have long been known, with the substance used to embalm bodies by the Ancient Egyptians, but Mr Watson believes new research is required to see how effective it can be in human medicines.
He said: “This fascinating material provides a unique insight into the interaction between the #honey bee and its environment and is of great interest to both natural products chemists and bee biologists and potentially of interest to the medical profession.
“Despite many years of research, it is still far from being completely understood and with so much activity on research into this material throughout the world it is time for a more unified approach.
“Honey has a high status in medical treatments, but propolis is still outside the medical mainstream. This is despite there being so many indications that it could be valuable in the treatment of neglected diseases, bacterial infections, wound healing and cancer, to name but a few.”
Mr Watson said he believed propolis could also be useful in fighting hospital-acquired infections and had an advantage over traditional antibiotics because it was a natural substance.
“Because diseases and infections develop to fight antibiotics over time, but use of a substance such as propolis could be hugely significant and we need proper trials,” he added.
The use of propolis is to be discussed an international conference organised by Mr Watson at Strathclyde University later this month.
Among the speakers is Hugo Fearnley, of BeeVital Ltd, who will discuss the antibacterial potential of propolis in the fight against superbugs such as MRSA.
Mr Fearnley said: “There is certainly more to bees than just honey. Bees collect nectar and pollen from plants, but also resin, which acts as an antiseptic in the hive to keep it free from infections.
“Although propolis is still in use, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Far East, we have quite forgotten about it. If you think about the likes of superbugs, the reason they are thriving is we are overusing antibiotics.
“These pharmaceuticals are based on one or two chemicals and are reasonably simple for the bacteria to get around so the bugs modify themselves to become resistant to antibiotics.
“But propolis is a very complex substance. Research suggests in each country and region the particular challenges the flora faces affects the composition of the propolis. We are looking at ways of using that complexity in medicine because it’s shown to be very effective in the fight against multi-resistant bacteria but without going down the pharmaceutical route.”
Other topics in the two-day conference, which will be held from June 16, look at the use of bee products in cancer and arthritis treatment as well as the challenges the world’s bee population is facing.