The sweet science
By Scott Faulkner
Whether it's gargling salt water for a throat infection or using a dock leaf on a nettle sting, most of us have used a 'home remedy' at some point. Now a Birmingham man is researching the medicinal benefits of applying sugar to cuts.
When Moses Murandu gashed his leg after playing in his native Zimbabwe as a child his father instinctively knew what to do.
He did not return with a first aid box packed with antibiotic ointments, antiseptic lotions and sterile gauze pads but instead dressed his son's wound with sugar granules.
Moses felt the waves of stinging pain subside as the infected wound healed yet when the 43-year-old father-of-two moved to the UK he could not believe that the only sugar used in hospital wards was for the patients' tea.
"When I came to work at a hospital in Birmingham 12 years ago I kept suggesting using sugar but no one there would listen to me," he protests.
"The trouble was I didn’t have the clinical evidence to back up its use in the wards; my father wasn’t a doctor, he was an ordinary working man living in a village.
Moses Murandu with a colleague
"There were not the fancy dressings and technology around where we lived - he used what was there and what worked."
Moses, a senior nurse and a lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, was undeterred and began carrying out research into its effect on patients’ wounds on the vascular ward at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.
The senior lecturer in adult nursing funded the study himself for six months and has now been awarded the prestigious Fondation Le Lous Scientific Research Innovation Award and £25,000 to enable him to continue his work.
"They were shocked when I suggested using sugar," admits Moses when he talks about his patients’ reactions during clinical trials at Selly Oak.
Moses' father Majazi Aaron Munawa
"Using granulated sugar in wounds has never been done in the UK before, although sugar paste has been used.
"While salt is painful, sugar is not and reduces the pain drastically.
"People being administered sugar said that they never knew such a simple method could make such a difference to their quality of life and ease their pain."
According to Moses, sugar can be used on wounds such as bed sores, leg ulcers and amputations.
Microorganisms cannot survive
He says because bacteria needs water to grow, applying sugar to a wound draws the water away and starves the bacteria of water.
Moses applying sugar to a wound
He says this prevents the bacteria from multiplying and causes it to die.
He found that a 25% sugar concentration ensures the microorganisms cannot survive.
So far 21 patients have been part of his pilot scheme since January 2009. According to Moses he says nearly all have seen an improvement in their condition.
"One of the ladies we treated had had her right leg amputated above the knee and it wasn’t healing properly because of poor circulation," he says, "but that changed when we started using sugar.
"Without the sugar she would have had to have had more of her leg amputated."
Moses working at Selly Oak hospital
Once the wound is cleaned, he packs it completely in sugar and then applies a dressing. Typically Moses says this treatment would cost about £1.49 each time whereas a compression and fluid draining machine costs hundreds of pounds to hire.
Moses does not take sugar off the supermarket shelves. Instead he says he deals directly with the manufacturer so that the sugar used is certified, packed in sterile conditions and can be traced back.
Jacqui Fletcher, Herve Le Lous board member, praised Moses for his determination to get sugar used in UK hospitals.
“Moses challenged current thinking.
“In the UK we have a habit of saying, 'Ah yes we know in countries that can't afford proper dressings they use other things, but when you are here you have the freedom and luxury of choosing a whole range of alternatives,' but Moses didn't think that way.
“He takes the view that he used sugar very effectively, therefore why wouldn't it work equally well here?
"He should be commended for his tenacity in taking this project forward when many others would not even have started."
Moses, who lives in Edgbaston, studied midwifery in South Africa and also studied in Atlanta, Georgia, before coming to the UK to pursue a Masters at Birmingham University, which was supported by Professor Colette Clifford.
Moses discusses test results
He was helped in his studies by Mr Malcolm Simms, consultant vascular surgeon at Selly Oak Hospital, who had worked in Uganda and witnessed the use of sugar there.
In September the sugar pilot scheme is being trialled at three more centres to compare results which, if successful, could lead to sugar being used as a 'medicine' for wounds across the country.
last updated: 12/08/2009 at 14:29