Project to datamine medieval medical texts wins fellowship

Dr Erin Connelly of the University of Warwick has been awarded a UKRI Future Leader Fellowship for her research on the use of medieval medical texts for modern medicines.

The UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowships fund was created in 2018 and is designed to increase the supply of talented individuals needed for British-based research and innovation. The fellowship can include funding of up to £1.5 million over a four-year period, and several other support measures.


The fellowship was awarded to Dr Connelly for her project Datamining medieval medical texts for modern medicines. She explains:

“Medieval manuscripts contain numerous remedies for the treatment of microbial infections, and these often involve complex preparations of several ingredients. These combinations of natural compounds could be the result of empirical work by pre-modern physicians to produce efficacious remedies. However, quantitative analyses of how medieval physicians used the materials available to them to create remedies, and empirical tests of the antimicrobial activity of whole remedies, are almost non-existent.

“The datamining of medieval medical texts using the tools of network analysis is a new way to evaluate combinations of antimicrobial ingredients in medieval recipes, and to identify significant ingredient combinations from an antimicrobial perspective. This is a novel route to developing new antimicrobial therapeutics in a time of increasing antimicrobial resistance.”


Connelly has already spent several years researching the relevance of medieval medicine for fighting against modern infections. Earlier this year she co-authored an article “Data Mining a Medieval Medical Text Reveals Patterns in Ingredient Choice That Reflect Biological Activity against Infectious Agents,” which examined a 15th-century text known as Lylye of Medicynes, focusing on recipes for topical treatments for symptoms of microbial infection.

You can also read more of Erin Connelly’s research in her article “If it be a poor man”: medieval medical treatment for the rich and poor and The Conversation column Medieval medical books could hold the recipe for new antibiotics.

Dr Connelly was one of four scholars from the University of Warwick who won UKRI Future Leader Fellowships. Professor Pam Thomas, the University of Warwick’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, commented, “These fellowships are welcome recognition of the depth, breadth and ingenuity of Warwick research, it is a great plasure to see University of Warwick researchers being recognised by UKRI, and for them to receive support for their ground-breaking research. I wish our academics the very best as they continue their work and look forward to following their progress.”


Top Image: European depiction of the Persian (Iranian) doctor Al-Razi, in Gerardus Cremonensis “Recueil des traités de médecine” 1250-1260. A surgeon (left) holds the matula, a vessel for collecting the urine.


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