Clinical trial to investigate whether Chinese herbal medicines could be alternative treatment to antibiotics

Scientists are studying the use of Chinese herbal medicines in treating recurrent urinary tract infections

Researchers at the University of Southampton are studying the use of Chinese herbal medicines in treating recurrent urinary tract infections (RUTIs), in the first clinical trial of its kind in the UK.

The study aims to assess whether such medicines could play a role in replacing some antibiotic treatments for appropriate conditions.

The trial, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), is underway in the primary care setting, where patients recruited to the trial through their GPs will be offered one of two treatment paths.

A total of 80 women who have had three or more recurrent UTIs in the previous 12 months will receive 'individualised' herbs prescribed by a Chinese herbal practitioner, or 'standardised' herbs provided by primary care clinicians. Both groups are placebo controlled and will include herbs for the prevention of UTIs and treatment of acute episodes. Treatment duration is for 16 weeks.

This is the first time Chinese medicine has been authorised as a Clinical Trial of an Investigational Medicinal Product (CTIMP) in the UK

Dr Andrew Flower, NIHR Research Fellow in the Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit at the University of Southampton, said: 'Chinese herbal medicine has a recorded history of treating symptoms of UTIs for over 2,000 years. More recent clinical research in China has provided some preliminary evidence that CHM can alleviate the symptoms of UTIs and reduce the rate of recurrence but more rigorous investigation is required.

'The RUTI trial is the first time Chinese medicine has been authorised as a Clinical Trial of an Investigational Medicinal Product (CTIMP) in the UK. This means we have had to pass through the same regulatory pathways as for a conventional drug trial, and it is an important precedent for future research.'

In the UK, urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infection presented by women within the primary care setting.

Antibiotics are used to treat both acute and recurrent UTIs and while effective in reducing the duration of severe symptoms, antibiotic resistance is currently estimated at 20% for Trimethoprim and Cephalosporins, and in half of cases being treated with Amoxicillin.

Emma Farrant, President of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, said: 'With antibiotic resistance increasing rapidly, herbal medicine could play a valuable role in replacing some antibiotic treatments in appropriate instances, such as for treatment of UTIs, acute coughs and sore throats.'

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