WANT TO HELP

To qualify for the study, participants must:• have an abscess less than or equal to 6 centimeters in diameter on arms, legs, chest, abdomen or back that requires an incision and drainage (abscesses on face, scalp, breast, genitals, hands or feet do not qualify)• be willing to consent to having honey-prepared dressing applied to their wound• be willing to return to Piñon Family Practice each day for seven days for evaluation• be between the ages of 16 and 79• not have an underlying immune system disease, cannot be diabetic, pregnant, allergic to bee pollen, honey, sulfa antibiotics and/or lidocaine• not be diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease, or be a recurrent user of drugs or alcohol

More Info: Call Piñon Family Practice at 505-324-1000.

 

FARMINGTON — A local physician is spearheading efforts to demonstrate the healing properties of New Mexico honey, and he's asking for the community's help in locating subjects for his research.

"Honey has been used throughout the world for over a 1,000 years to heal wounds," said R. Stephen Rankin, a pediatrician with Piñon Family Practice in Farmington.

Years ago, Rankin began researching the healing properties of honey and learned that a honey produced in New Zealand, called manuka, has been shown to be resistant to bacteria. Rankin, a hobby beekeeper, speculated that a certain type of dark honey produced in midsummer in northwest New Mexico might share these same properties, so he and fellow Piñon Family Practice physician Joseph Pope have set out to test this hypothesis.

Collaborating with the San Juan College medical laboratory and San Juan Regional Medical Center, the team has obtained approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The team has also secured local funding support and is on the verge of launching the study. Now, they're seeking individuals who have wounds that test positive for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria, more commonly known as MRSA.

"Many people are familiar with MRSA because it's a common infection, and it can become serious with invasive infections of other areas such as the brain, lungs and bones," Rankin said.

When the antibiotic-resistant MRSA cultures were treated with the locally produced honey in the lab, Rankin said, the results were dramatic. Compared with MRSA cultures treated with other healing substances, including some of the more commonly used antibiotics, the honey was vastly more effective.

As to why the locally produced dark honey is so effective against MRSA, Rankin says he doesn't know.

A photo of a culture dish shows several samples of MRSA bacteria being treated by different substances, including several commonly used antibiotics. The
A photo of a culture dish shows several samples of MRSA bacteria being treated by different substances, including several commonly used antibiotics. The samples of Northwestern New Mexico honey, shown circled in red, show dramatically more bactericidal activity against the MRSA, as compared to the other samples. (Courtesy of Mary Doshi)

"It's a mystery," he said. "But there's a high suspicion that it may be a weed that grows at this time of year, the drought-resistant knapweed. Determining what the effective properties are would be the subject of a future study."

Because weeds are a staple of honeybees, Rankin points out that the overuse of pesticides and herbicides is making the bees vulnerable.

"Weeds are good," he said. "The bees are diminishing, so we want to propagate the weeds that are good for the bees."

Pope, who has also been a hobby beekeeper for the past seven years, is excited about the research project.

"Steve (Rankin) has been talking to me about this for years, and we finally had the opportunity to go to the lab to test the honey," said Pope. "They found that the honey did as well as pricey antibiotics given intravenously. It's exciting because this is original community research, and I think it's an amazing project, even if the hypothesis is proven wrong."

Pope and Rankin worked with several individuals, including Mary Doshi, director of San Juan College's medical laboratory technology program, and also with individuals at San Juan Regional Medical Center, to design the research study and to get the necessary approvals. The college's medical laboratory will handle analysis of the MRSA cultures used in the study, and technicians will manipulate variables in the honey to see if changing the thickness or other factors makes a difference in the honey's healing properties.

A swarm of bees are seen at the home of Dr. R. Stephen Rankin on Thursday in Farmington.
A swarm of bees are seen at the home of Dr. R. Stephen Rankin on Thursday in Farmington. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

Doshi is equally enthusiastic about the study, particularly because of the collaboration between the physicians and the college. College students will be an integral part of the study, she said, which gives them a unique opportunity not often available in a college and community of this size.

"What's so exciting about this is we have associate degree students involved in an FDA-approved clinical trial. Medical lab technology is our expertise, and our students will get the opportunity to collect MRSA samples, follow the cultures for seven days, and can even get involved in writing the (research) paper," she said.

Crucial to the project's success will be locating sufficient subjects, and the team is actively seeking at least 50 individuals who have MRSA-infected wounds. Twenty-five of the subjects will be randomly chosen to receive oral antibiotics, while the other 25 will have their wounds topically treated with the local honey. In exchange for taking part in the study, subjects will receive wound treatment at no cost, and there will be some support for expenses they might incur while participating. Subjects who are evaluated as having a non-MRSA infection will not qualify for the study but will still receive treatment or a referral.

"Everyone at the college and the hospital has been very supportive. We have a budget of over ($20,000), so people have been very generous," said Pope. "For statistical significance, we'll take everyone we can get until the honey and money run out."

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.