Waikato University’s honey reserach group is about to strike gold.
Wound dressings made from biologically active manuka honey and a seaweed gel have gone on sale in New Zealand, and are about to hit international markets, Waikato University researchers say.
The university’s honey research group, led by Professor Peter Molan, put together the blend of honey and a seaweed extract as a dressing for leg and foot ulcers, burns, and similar infections, a market estimated to be worth $12 billion by 2012.
The technology has been licensed as a Medihoney antibacterial honey gel sheet, which has won regulatory approval to be sold in Europe, and Food and Drug Administration approval for the United States.
The sheets hold the antibacterial honey in contact with a wound and at the same time absorb the pus and other liquids draining from the wound. Decades of work by Prof Molan went into showing antibacterial agents in some specific types of manuka honey are effective at healing wounds. He created prototypes of the wound dressing about six years ago. The patch contains manuka honey gelled with sodium alginate, a food ingredient extracted from seaweed which helps the dressing absorb moisture.
The patch is dry, and does not stick to the skin: Prof Molan said the dressing would be particularly useful for chronic wounds resulting from diabetes. Type two diabetes often leaves patients with foot ulcers and other wounds on limbs with poor circulation.
“It means diabetic wounds can be actually healed, rather than just offering palliative care,” Prof Molan said. “It could mean fewer amputations which are often necessary when these wounds won’t heal.”
Non-healing wounds were an expensive burden in the health system, and the honey dressings could save money because they would need less frequent changing.
This is good news for the University, health sector – and farmers with enough manuka to make a home for beehives.
Stands need to cover at least 50 hectares and be well clear of other plants bees might find attractive such as gorse because they can fly about 1.8 kilometres.
And it must be manuka not kanuka which produces honey with a similar taste but without the activity level which is were the value of manuka honey lies.
We visited a company making manuka products in March and were told the honey is analysed to determine the activity level on bacteria. The unique manuka factor – UMF – is calculated from that and the higher the activity level the better the UMF and the more valuable the honey – up to $24 a kilo.
Farmers could get up to $50 from beekeepers with hives on their properties. Although like any other primary industry returns are subject to weather. Bees like warm, humid conditions and won’t fly at all if it’s under 12 degrees. And it’s not just a matter of putting hives out and collecting the honey, the bees have to be fed when there’s not enough nectar to sustain them.
However, if the manuka dressings are successful, farmers may well find they can make money from what many regard as scrub.