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Research identifies Aussie bee potential

A sticky substance produced by native Australian bees has been identified as having a unique chemical profile that could hold the key to a medical breakthrough in how wounds are treated, according to new research at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

In a world research first, USC Biomedical Science PhD student Karina Hamilton has studied the cerumen produced by stingless Australian bees to explore possible medical properties.

“There’s been significant research done in this field with European honey bees and the health benefits there are well known, but there had never been any research carried out with Australian bees,” said Ms Hamilton of Hervey Bay.

The PhD student found that the cerumen from Australian stingless bees possessed up to 180 different chemical compounds, and was chemically different to the resin, or propolis, produced by the European honey bee.

“It was an extremely onerous task to extract the raw material and isolate the four components that possessed wound-healing, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics,” she said.

“To be able to confirm that Australian stingless bees do create cerumen with these properties was very exciting and the cell-based model research was very promising.”

Ms Hamilton also spent 10 months of her PhD working in labs at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom to investigate specific in vitro assays (investigative procedures).

Senior USC lecturer in Biochemical Pharmacology Dr Fraser Russell supervised Karina and said the overseas research time was a fantastic opportunity.

“To have the equipment and expertise to support the very specific work she was carrying out was vital for this research,” he said.

Dr Russell and Ms Hamilton are now looking for available grants to support further research.

“The next step for this project would be to look at human trials to involve the application of either the extract or the chemical constituents on superficial wounds to see if that might hasten wound healing in patients,” Dr Russell said.

Ms Hamilton’s research was made possible by a $75,830 grant over three years from the Australian Government’s National Health and Medical Research Council and through support from USC’s Inflammation and Healing Research Cluster.

— Megan Woodward

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