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Faculty of Agriculture research finds a natural approach to fight sore throat bugs

Posted by stephanie rogers on January 26, 2021 in International News, News, Research
Doctoral candidate Niluni Wijesundara
Doctoral candidate Niluni Wijesundara

Upper respiratory infections such as sore throats are among the most common health problems worldwide, especially during the winter months in Canada.

The consumer demand for natural health product alternatives for the coughs and cold market has grown fast over the last decade as most are trying to find effective natural remedies for relief from the discomfort.

Researchers at the Faculty of Agriculture have discovered the plant essential oil carvacol can rapidly kill Streptococcus pyogenes, the bacteria that causes strep throat.

According to the peer-review research article just published in the January 2021 issue of Nature research journal Scientific Reports, carvacrol at safe doses, can kill this Gram-positive bacteria instantly through a mechanism that disturbs its cell membrane.

"Some of the currently available antibiotics used to treat strep throat are linked with challenges such as harmful side effects," explained doctoral candidate Niluni Wijesundara who conducted the research. "Patients are also concerned about soothing the pain during the infection. Carvacrol has the potential to become an alternative to antibiotics due to its potency and low cytotoxicity to cultured human tonsil epithelial cells.”

Atlantic Canadian herbs such as summer savory are a rich source of naturally occurring carvacrol.

"Carvacrol has tremendous biological activities including anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties," added supervisor and Principal Investigator Dr. Vasantha Rupasinghe, Professor and Killam Chair in Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals. “The use of local agricultural products as value-added ingredients will create a value-chain to enhance the growth of our rural-based bio-economy,” he added.

This research project was funded by the Collaborative Research and Development program of NSERC, Island Abbey Food Science Ltd (Honibe™ company) of Charlottetown, PE and Killam Chair funds of Dr. Rupasinghe.

“This academic-industry collaborative research could help us to introduce a new line of world-first Honibe™ products with specific added health benefits that will allow greater brand awareness for the pure dried honey line and will satisfy the demand from global consumers seeking products made with natural resources," said Sarah Daley, Manager of R&D of Island Abbey Food Science Ltd.

The interdisciplinary project has bought together researchers of Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine and Nova Scotia Health Authority as collaborators to train many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

“These exciting findings are an excellent example of how research at the Faculty of Agriculture can assist and promote value-added agricultural industries in Atlantic Canada," added Dr. Chris Cutler, Associate Dean Research of the Faculty of Agriculture.   

More details can be found here: Wijesundara, N.M., S.F. Lee, Z. Cheng, R. Davidson, and H.P.V. Rupasinghe. 2021. Carvacrol exhibits rapid bactericidal activity against Streptococcus pyogenes through cell membrane damage. Scientific Reports. 11:1487.