Acriflavine, an antiseptic used in WWI hospitals could be the key to fighting antibiotic resistance – one of the current biggest threats to global health. Seven decades ago this simple antiseptic made from coal tar was replaced by penicillin after the war. It fights both viral and bacterial infections in an entirely different way – one that could prevent pathogens from mutating to outsmart our medications. It is even showing great promise in preventing the common cold.
“… with new bacteria [that are] more and more resistant to treatment, it may do a comeback,” one of the researchers behind the discovery, Michael Gantier from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia, told ABC News.
“It’s very cheap to make, it’s not something you would make if you were a private company trying to make money on drugs.”
Called Acriflavine, the antiseptic is derived from coal tar, and comes in the form of a reddish brown or orange powder.
It was first used in the early 1900s as a topical treatment to prevent flesh wounds from getting infected, and was widely used in hospitals and homes to treat everything from urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea until the 1940s, when penicillin came to the fore.
It’s now been more than 70 years since penicillin became the most important tool we have to fight bacterial infections, and its days appear to be numbered.
Many of the deadliest pathogens in the world have managed to mutate into forms that our penicillin-based drugs can’t recognise or destroy, and now antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill roughly 700,000 people each year around the world…
Acriflavine, dye obtained from coal tar, introduced as an antiseptic in 1912 by the German medical-research worker Paul Ehrlich and used extensively in World War I to kill the parasites that cause sleeping sickness. The hydrochloride and the less irritating base, neutral acriflavine, both are odourless, reddish-brown powders used in dilute aqueous solutions primarily as topical antiseptics or given orally as urinary antiseptics. Once used in the treatment of gonorrhea, acriflavine has been replaced by the antibiotics.
Paul Ehrlich won a nobel prize in 1908 for physiology/medicine. He discovered the first effective treatment for syphilis, the first drug to be targeted against a specific pathogen: Salvarsan. At the time, syphilis was then one of the most lethal and infectious diseases in Europe.
Another source says that malaria was the first effective treatment for syphilis. Julius Wagner-Jauregg infected patients with malaria in order to induce a high fever.
Although a malaria infection is no walk in the park, there were cures available where as syphilis was incurable. The gamble paid off and the intense fevers that accompanied the malarial infections prompted the patients’ bodies to attack the syphilis infection too. Wagner-Jauregg received the 1927 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery.
Acriflavine, a topical antiseptic orange or brown powder derived from acridine, is a dye that stains the skin and may be harmful in the eyes or if inhaled. The hydrochloride form is more irritating than the neutral form. How do you make it? First, make acridine.
Carl Gräbe and Heinrich Caro first isolated acridine in 1870 from coal tar. Acridine is separated from coal tar by extracting with dilute sulfuric acid. Addition of potassium dichromate to this solution precipitates acridine bichromate. The bichromate is decomposed using ammonia.
Acridine and its derivatives can be prepared by many synthetic processes. In the Bernthsen acridine synthesis, diphenylamine is condensed with carboxylic acids in the presence of zinc chloride. When formic acid is the carboxylic acid, the reaction yields the parent acridine. With the higher larger carboxylic acids, the derivatives substituted at the meso carbon atom are generated.
Much easier: buy some online or possibly at a pet store. It is used as a preventative and treatment to control Oodinium (Velvet) in freshwater and marine fish. I wouldn’t try to treat yourself with it, but it might not be a bad thing to have on hand for the bacterial zombie apocalypse.
How it works was not known until very recently:
In World War I and World War II it was used to treat everything from open wounds and bladder infections to gonorrhoea. It was also used to kill the parasite that causes sleeping sickness. But it has never been clear how it worked – until now.
Molecular biologists Michael Gantier and Genevieve Pepin from Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Research have established that the antiseptic attaches to the DNA of the patient, which sparks the body’s immune system into action.
Acriflavine was also found to bind to bacterial DNA, slowing the spread of bacteria and allowing the body’s immune system to gain the upper hand.
The findings, published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, reveal the healing power of the antiseptic to be far greater than realised.
And because the overlooked antiseptic works by supercharging the body’s immune system, it could also prove a valuable treatment option for antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which have been forecast to kill 10 million people [per year] by 2050.