Professor Rose Cooper, Professor of Microbiology at Cardiff School of Health Sciences (CSHS), has been recognised for her extensive research into the antibacterial qualities of manuka honey, specifically in combatting hospital-borne bacteria like MRSA.
Professor Cooper and her team at Centre for Biomedical Sciences, which is based at Cardiff Metropolitan University, have been named winners of the Infection and Biofilm Award at the prestigious Journal of Wound Care (JWC) Awards 2014, ahead of a team from The University of Tokyo, and three other shortlisted nominees. Professor Cooper's research team has assisted in her study on the effects of honey on gene expression in MRSA and its effects on other bacteria that cause wound infection. Professor Cooper, who has been part of the Llandaff Technical College, UWIC and Cardiff Met staff for 43 years, said: "I was surprised to win, but it is really rewarding that people are beginning to accept our research, which was considered unconventional when I started. The award is a mark of recognition for me but also the contributions of my talented research students and colleagues, without whom I couldn't have completed all this research over the years."
Professor Cooper developed an interest in wound infection after meeting and working with Professor Keith Harding of the Wound Healing Research Unit at University Hospital of Wales during the early 1990s. It was there that she had a chance meeting with Professor Peter Molan of the University of Waikato in 1997 who introduced her to manuka honey.
Professor Cooper, whose expertise means she now works in conjunction with several commercial pharmaceutical companies, said: "Professor Molan is a leader in this field, who has long been investigating the therapeutic properties of manuka honey in promoting wound healing.
"Because I had been working with wounds, I had a collection of wound bacteria and he was very interested in understanding the mode of action of manuka honey and the effect it had on bacteria. That has been the thrust of my research since the nineties."
Medical grade honey became licensed on prescription in the UK in 2004 and approved in Canada and the USA since 2007. It is available in many forms, including tubes and as medicinal dressings or in ribbons, which are useful for inserting into a wound.
Manuka honey, which is predominantly produced in New Zealand and Australia, also has the benefits of being antimicrobial, deodorising, anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant which is effective in treating traumatic wounds, surgical incision sites, burns, sloughy wounds, and pressure ulcers.
Professor Cooper, who was the first in the UK to work with manuka honey, said: "The majority of chronic wounds have bacteria in a biofilm, which makes them much less susceptible to antibiotics, and therefore, much more difficult to treat. Manuka honey can inhibit the growth of these biofilms in the laboratory, giving it the potential to control superbug infections such as MRSA. It will inhibit MRSA by stopping cells from dividing, which makes it such an interesting product to work with."