Health from the hive

Health from the hive

February 2, 2004

Mary Poppins insisted that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. Jeremiah Hadwen, however, has demonstrated that honeybees may know better.

Jeremiah, a Grade 10 student at Ottawa’s Collège Catholique Samuel-Genest, has been exploring the untapped potential of an active ingredient of beeswax—something quite familiar to the average honeybee. The ingredient possesses the ability to help the body rid itself of ailments such as the common cold.

More specifically, Jeremiah’s investigations have focused on the medicinal properties of propolis, a resinous flower extract that bees use to protect their hives from the spread of bacteria. “It’s sort of like bee glue,” he says. “It helps to sterilize the nest.”

Jeremiah’s work formally began with a science project he started in Grade 9, but it actually originated at home. He wanted to improve the taste of the natural remedies that he received while he was sick—remedies that included less-than-tasty items such as garlic tablets and propolis capsules. In addition to improving the flavour of the items, he wanted to enhance their effectiveness.

With these goals in mind, Jeremiah framed a project to study a number of garlic and propolis combinations. Fashioning blends made out of varying amounts of each component, he mixed them with a neutral liquid base and different flavourings. He then froze them into lozenge-sized cubes. Jeremiah applied each cube to samples of the E. coli bacteria in order to determine the effectiveness of the remedy.

As it turned out, a mixture with 75 percent propolis and 25 percent garlic kept the bacteria population to a minimum. But what about the taste? After trying honey-orange extract and a number of other additives to improve the flavour, Jeremiah says he never did come up with a recipe whose taste genuinely appealed to him.

The tabulated results of these experiments became the basis for a science fair project that took first prize at his school’s internal competition last spring. About a month later, the project won again in a regional science fair. Jeremiah’s mentor Frédéric Venne, who coordinates the school’s science programs, was especially pleased by a fifth-place win by Jeremiah in the regional Aventis Pasteur biotechnology competition last May in Ottawa. “He was the only student in Grade 9,” says Venne. “All of the others were in Grade 12. We were very proud of him.” Venne adds that this experience set the stage for Jeremiah’s bronze medal win at the Youth Science Foundation’s national competition in Calgary just two weeks later.

With all these achievements under his belt, Jeremiah is ready for his next challenge. This time he wants to design a better face mask to prevent infections in people who work in hospitals.

Meanwhile, Jeremiah continues to broaden his horizons as a member of the school’s enriched science curriculum. Lisa Filion, part of the team of teachers who oversee the curriculum, says Jeremiah is well prepared to take advantage of an innovation they will introduce next year. He will be taking Grade 11 and 12 chemistry classes a full year in advance so that he can take a special biotechnology course in his graduating year.

In addition to his aptitude for sciences, Filion points out that Jeremiah plays the trumpet and has become an outstanding long-distance runner. Above all, she notes, he is sociable, outgoing, and friendly. “He has a huge heart,” she observes, “and perseveres in every facet of life.