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The Manuka Honey Project


Lab_13 is a project that provides a dedicated space in a school where young people can let their curiosity thrive and are encouraged to investigate scientific questions they have, aided by a scientist in residence.  The BSI was delighted to fund the attendance of the Lab_13 group from Gillespie Primary School at Cheltenham Science Festival to discuss their recent project looking at the effectiveness of Manuku honey against colds and flu.  

Manuka honey may sell for over £50 a jar but is it effective in preventing colds and minor illnesses? That was a question raised by the father of a boy at Gillespie Primary School in North London.

A group of children from the school’s Lab_13 project took up the challenge and decided to run a double blind control trial, with the help of Carole Kenrick, the Lab_13 scientist in residence.  The so-called Beesearchers wrote a protocol with help from Dr Robert Dickinson from Imperial College London.  Money was raised from the British Pharmacological Society to pay for the MHF15+ honey. Three groups of volunteer children were selected – one would take the Manuka honey, one, the ordinary honey, and one would have no honey at all. The trial was double blind so those taking honey did not know which honey they were taking, and the Beesearchers did not know themselves which honey the volunteer children were taking.

The trial lasted 10 weeks – each child had a 5 ml teaspoon each day and filled in their “honey diary” to record how they felt. Any sign of a sniffle, cough or a sneeze was noted. Children recorded whether they felt well or unwell, and described the symptoms. This enabled the Beesearchers to interpret the data - for example, headaches caused by bumps to the head were not counted in the results.

The results were collected and the Beesearchers processed the data. The whole of Y4 helped them by inputting the data onto a spreadsheet, which enabled them to process it more easily. Meanwhile, Cheltenham Science Festival had agreed the Beesearchers could have a stall at their famous Discover zone, and present their results there. The children travelled to Cheltenham with the support of the British Society for Immunology.

The Beesearchers announced the results on arrival in Cheltenham: the children taking ordinary honey or no honey at all felt well on more days than those who took the Manuka honey. The children said that their data suggested that Manuka honey did not work in preventing colds and minor illnesses.

Their trial hit the press. There was a big article in the Times, followed by the Daily Mail and the Observer. The children were interviewed by BBC Oxford and BBC Gloucester, as well as ITV West. Articles also appeared in The Australian newspaper, a report was broadcast on New Zealand radio and Carole Kenrick was interviewed on Canadian TV. It caused a stir on Twitter.

Amelia French and Carole Kendrick
Twitter: @Lab_13Gillespie