Summer Student Placement Scholarship: from traditional to conventional medicine

Michael Si-Hom Chau made use of an SfAM Summer Student Placement Scholarship to investigate anti-biofilm properties from medieval Welsh medicine and traditional Chinese medicine.

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During my final year, I was introduced to the SfAM scholarship. A successful application led to my summer 2021 placement at Swansea University studying anti-biofilm and antimicrobial properties of compounds derived from plants referred in remedies treating urinary tract infections (UTIs) from medieval and traditional medicine.

I first screened UTI strains and selected one Escherichia coli strain with good biofilm formation properties. Data analyses of medieval and traditional medicine texts highlighted plants abundantly present in remedies against UTIs, which were then used to screen literature for compounds of interest with unknown biofilm-modulating properties. Four compounds were tested against my selected UTI strain and E. coli K12 as a control. High concentrations of one compound showed strain-specific effects on biofilm formation whereas other compounds reduced biofilm formation similarly for both strains.  

Medieval medicine remedies often also listed bile as co-ingredient. I tested the effect of two bile acids in the presence and absence of antibiotics. Each bile acid increased the minimum inhibitory concentration of the tested antibiotic, while the bile acids by themselves had no effect on growth.

This placement has enhanced my lab skills as well as skills in planning experiments, managing budgets, and applying different statistical methods, highlighting the importance of replicates, accuracy and precision. I developed my science communication skills through presenting findings in meetings and at the Microbiology Society's ECM Forum Summer Conference 2021. These newly learned skills will be utilised in my research masters.


Michael Si-Hom Chau

Swansea University Medical School