Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Do Lamb's ears hold the key to multi-drug resistance?

Species name: Stachys byzantina

Common name: Lamb's ears

Location: Ontario

This plant is one of the few that we use as ornamental plants in northern North America that is native to the area around Armenia, Turkey and Iran. The climate there is so different from what it is here that most plants native to that area would never survive the winter. This is one of the exceptions; if the above-ground portions of the plant cannot survive the winter, the roots can regenerate shoots and regrow the next growing season. This does mean that as our climate warms, the range of this plant will expand much further north, and becoming much more likely to be invasive to certain areas.

The medicinal potential of this plant is huge, especially considering where infections are headed lately. It seems like there isn't a month that goes by that a major hospital in Canada or the United States (or in any other country, for that matter) doesn't have an outbreak of a drug-resistant bacterial species. This is becoming more and more dangerous, since more species are becoming multi-drug resistant. One such species of bacteria that has been in the news recently is drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Historically, drug-resistant Staph infections could be treated with very strong antibiotics but now even those are no longer effective. For this reason, more drugs that are effective against this bacterial species need to be discovered, and it also needs to be an ongoing process (since bacteria can produce a new generation so quickly, drug resistance also evolves incredibly quickly). Lamb's ears extract contain a number of chemicals that, when in synergy, demonstrate the ability to kill multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's still in the early stages of drug development, but probably over my lifetime the drug will be released for select use only for multi-drug resistant Staph.