Cinnamon oil could trump antibiotics in preventing superbugs

As antibiotics become less effective against superbugs, a Swinburne University of Technology researcher has found that cinnamon oil could be part of the solution.

Dr Sanjida Halim Topa has been focusing on traditional agents to modify the behaviour of bacteria rather than killing bacteria.

As part of her PhD studies, she investigated cinnamaldehyde, a major component of cinnamon essential oil.

“Humans have a long history of using natural products to treat infections, and there is a renewed focus on such antimicrobial compounds. Natural products may offer a promising solution to this problem,” Topa said.

She found cinnamaldehyde inhibited the development of biofilm. Biofilm is a sticky film of bacteria, like the plaque that forms on teeth, which causes infections that resist even the most potent antibiotics.

Alternatives to antibiotics to treat chronic biofilm-mediated infections, that may occur with urinary catheters and artificial joints, are urgently needed.

“Though many previous studies have reported antimicrobial activity of cinnamon essential oil, it is not widely used in the pharmaceutical industry,” Topa said.

“We aimed to search for the molecular activity of this oil, focusing on its major component, cinnamaldehyde. This is the compound that gives cinnamon its flavour.”

Rather than killing the bacteria, Topa modified the behaviour of bacteria by disrupting bacterial communication to prevent biofilm formation.

“We hypothesised that using natural antimicrobials, such as essential oils, might interfere in biofilm formation. Thus, we focused on the impact of different concentrations of cinnamaldehyde in different biofilm development stages.”

Topa tested the effect of different concentrations of cinnamaldehyde on biofilms formed from the pathogenic pseudomonas aeruginosa strain of bacteria.

She found that a sub-lethal concentration of cinnamaldehyde controlled the dispersion of pseudomonas aeruginosa and the development of biofilm.

Dr Topa is now investigating embedding cinnamaldehyde in nanofibres in wound dressings.

Topa’s research has been published in Microbiology.

The research was undertaken with colleagues at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.