In the battle against multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), the answer may lie in onions - the Persian shallot in particular. A joint study has suggested the antibacterial properties of this type of onion could complement current antibiotic treatment by increasing its efficacy.

Aside from tuberculosis drugs, indiscriminate use of antibiotics including using medicine to cure the common cold, has resulted to drugs developing resistance.

To date, some 50 million people are infected with MDR-TB, and 10 million have died in the past year, which only underscore the need to develop a newer class of antibiotics.

“Natural products from plants and microbes have enormous potential as a source of new antibiotics,” noted study author Professor Simon Gibbons, of the UCL Department of Pharmaceutical and Biological Chemistry.

The team from University of London and University College London, in cooperation with scientists from the University of Greenwich and University of East London, studied Allium Stipitatum extracts, or Persian shallot which is mainly used in Iranian cooking.

The researchers synthesized the onion’s antibacterial extracts into four compounds and tested each.

“All of which showed a significant reduction in the presence of the bacteria in multidrug-resistant tuberculosis - the most promising candidate of which, with highest therapeutic index, inhibited growth of the isolated TB cells by more than 99.9 percent,” according to a UCL release.

Simply, the chemical properties can be used as complementary to existing anti-tuberculosis drugs which strains of TB have developed a resistance to.

“In this study we show that inhibiting the key intrinsic resistance properties of the TB, one could increase the effects of existing antibiotic treatment and reverse the tide of already existing antibiotic treatment,” said Dr Sanjib Bhakta, study author from Birkbeck’s Department of Biological Sciences.

However, the researchers noted that their study is still in its early form, and clinical studies will have to follow.

The Philippines, meanwhile, is one of the 22 countries with high TB burden with a case rate ratio of 265 per 100,000 in the population. Among Filipinos with new TB cases, resistance to any drug was at 20 percent and 38 percent for those with previously treated TB infection.

The study was published in Scientific Reports. MIMS