Blue clay could help combat superbug threat, say researchers

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Kazmulka)
(Image: Getty/Kazmulka)

Related tags: Antibiotic resistance

Scientists are investigating the effectiveness of Oregon blue clay in killing disease-causing bacteria, including antimicrobial-resistant superbugs.

Scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) and the Mayo Clinic have published a study outlining how natural clays can be used to design new antibacterial drugs. The growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when a microorganism becomes resistant to an antimicrobial medicine.

According to their findings, published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents​, the clay has antibacterial effects against Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus – including antibiotic-resistant strains carbapenem and methicillin.

“The general mechanism of antibacterial clays, determined by studies of many clay types worldwide, is by soluble aluminium and reduced iron released from the clay minerals that buffer the pH and Eh conditions,” ​ASU research professor Lynda Williams told us.

“We have shown that aluminium attacks the cell membrane and reduces iron, causing membrane and intracellular protein damage,” ​she added.

The research collaboration is exploring the use of clay in topical applications for wound care. While trials are just beginning in animal models, Williams told us “In vitro studies on biofilms [which occur when bacteria develop a protective coating] show that unlike many other alternative antibiotics, the clay antibacterial mechanism kills a very large spectrum of antibiotic-resistant pathogens most troublesome in hospitals and wound care in general.”

The institutions will eventually look to out-license this technology. “More research is needed for US Food and Drug Administration approval”, ​we were told.

The collaboration is a welcome initiative, as major pharmaceutical companies move away from antibiotic development. In 2015, AstraZeneca announced plans​ to spin out its antibiotics R&D unit, into a standalone subsidiary.

In addition, earlier this year, pharma giant Novartis said it would discontinue antibacterial and antiviral research​ to increase investment in core focus areas. 

Related topics: Ingredients, Delivery formulations

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