Pine cones may form a new line of attack against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection, the British Pharmaceutical Conference heard this week.
Researchers at the School of Pharmacy, University of London, have found that immature pine cones contain antibacterial agents that are active against MRSA and other staphylococcal infections. The work could lead to new drugs to treat MRSA, a serious infection that has become an increasing problem in both hospitals and the community.
The new research involves cones of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, a tree grown widely in the UK. Dr Simon Gibbons, who leads the research team, explained how it works: “Plants need some protection against bacteria in their environment and there is an ecological rationale for protective compounds to be synthesised in a part of the plant essential for its reproduction, i.e. the cones. There is no reason to assume that any plant antibacterial compounds will be active against human pathogens,” he said, “but we felt that it was worth investigation.”
“The level of activity against MRSA and MDR strains found in the compounds we isolated from the pine cones is a good starting point for new anti-staphylococcal drugs,” Dr Gibbons concluded.
Before any such compound – or synthetic derivatives – could be taken by a patient, extensive efficacy and toxicity testing will be needed. In the shorter-term, the compounds are more likely to be investigated for use as antiseptics, for example as additives to soaps, as part of a hospital’s infection control strategy.
The work was conducted and reported to the Conference by Ms Eileen Smith, a final year PhD student in the research group of Dr Gibbons.