Clays' Show Promise for Fighting Deadly MRSA Superbug
Infections, Other Diseases
(Apr. 8, 2008) —
Mud may be coming to a medicine cabinet or pharmacy near you.
Scientists in Arizona report that minerals from clay could form
the basis of a new generation of inexpensive, highly-effective
antimicrobials for fighting MRSA infections that are moving out
of health care settings and into the community. These "superbugs"
are increasingly resistant to multiple antibiotics and cause
thousands of deaths each year.
conventional antibiotics that are often administered by
injection or pills, the so-called "healing clays"
could be used as rub-on creams or ointments to keep MRSA
infections from spreading, the researchers say. The clays also
show promise against a wide range of other harmful bacteria,
including those that cause skin infections and food poisoning,
the scientists add. Their study, one of the first to explore the
antimicrobial activity of natural clays in detail, was presented
April 6, at the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical
Clays have been
used for thousands of years as a remedy for infected wounds,
indigestion, and other health problems, either by applying clay
to the skin or eating it. Today, clays are commonly used at
health spas in the form of mud baths and facials. Armed with new
investigative tools, researchers are beginning to explore their
health claims scientifically.
little chemical drug-stores in a packet," said study
co-leader Lynda Williams, Ph.D., a geochemist at Arizona State
University in Tempe. "They contain literally hundreds of
elements. Some of these compounds are beneficial but others
aren't. Our goal is to find out what nature is doing and see if
we can find a better way to kill harmful bacteria."
In the new
study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, Willams and
her colleagues collected more than 20 different clay samples
from around the world to investigate their antibacterial
activities. In collaboration with study co-leader Shelley Haydel,
Ph.D., a microbiologist with Arizona State, the researchers
tested each of the clays against several different bacteria
known to cause human diseases. These bacteria include MRSA (methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus), Mycobacterium ulcerans (a microbe
related to the tuberculosis bacterium that causes a flesh-eating
disease known as Buruli ulcer), as well as E. coli and
Salmonella (which cause food poisoning). The researchers
identified at least three clays that killed or significantly
reduced the growth of these bacteria.
are working to identify the specific compounds in the clays that
may be responsible for its antibacterial activity. Using
electron and ion microscopy, the researchers are also exploring
how these antibacterial clays interact with the cell membranes
of the bacteria in order to find out how they kill.
Haydel are continuing to test new clay samples from around the
world to determine their germ-fighting potential. They hope that
the more promising clays will be developed into a skin ointment
or pill to fight a variety of bacterial infections or possibly
as an agricultural wash to prevent food poisoning. Several
companies have expressed interest in forming partnerships to
develop the clays as antimicrobial agents, the scientists say.
mud can contain dangerous bacteria as well as toxic minerals
like arsenic and mercury, the researchers point out. Until
healing clays are developed that are scientifically proven,
which could take several years, handwashing and other proper
hygiene techniques may be your best bet for keeping MRSA and
other harmful bacteria at bay, they say.
from materials provided by American
Chemical Society, via EurekAlert!,
a service of AAAS.