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Tea tree oil, natural antibiotic against infections
June 24, 2018, 2:37 pm

Healing properties of tea tree oil, which comes from the native Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia, have been known to the indigenous aborigine population for hundreds of years. Now researchers at the James Cook University in Queensland, Australia have created a bioactive coating from tea tree oil that helps protect medical devices from bacterial infection, potentially helping stave off millions of infections each year.

Medical specialists point out that the more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become over time resulting in the appearance of ‘superbugs’, such as the Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria that are resilient to the antibacterial properties of drugs.

Millions of people around the world are infected each year with drug-resistant bacteria, with most such infections occurring in hospitals through ‘bacterial biofilms’ that contaminate medical devices. It is estimated that about 80 percent of worldwide surgery-associated infections could be related to biofilm contamination.

Many plants produce antimicrobial compounds called plant secondary metabolites (PSMs). Researchers behind the tea tree oil study were able to successfully use nanotechnology to convert PSMs, which in nature occur in a liquid state, to a solid bioactive coating material without diminishing its antibacterial properties.

The researchers note that PSMs are a low-cost renewable resource with limited toxicity and different mechanisms for fighting bacteria than synthetic antibiotics. They add that if tea tree oil components end up being routinely used to protect the surface of medical devices, millions of infections could be prevented each year.

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