Natural antibacterial clay could fight MRSA, other infections

BOSTON--With antibiotic resistance on the rise, the need for new therapies to combat dangerous bacterial infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a major public health concern.

Researchers from Arizona State University believe that topical clays may be able to thwart MRSA and other bacterial infections while healing skin, providing a natural supplement to currently available antibiotics. Previous research by Shelley Haydel, an associate professor at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, and her graduate research associate Caitlin Otto showed that metal ions attached to certain clays may be responsible for potent antibacterial properties.

Now, Haydel and Otto have shown that in mice, some clays have powerful antibacterial effects. One clay, a French green clay called EC12, worked particularly well in vivo. Not only did the clay significantly decrease bacterial loads of MRSA in a mouse model, but it also reduced skin inflammation, or dermatitis, which often leads to scarring. Otto presented the findings at a poster session May 18 at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting in Boston.

"We've already seen that this works against Buruli ulcer," Otto told FierceBiotechResearch in an interview. Otto said the French green clay has been used to treat the flesh-eating Buruli ulcer in Africa's Ivory Coast. But the clay is not FDA-approved in the U.S., so Otto said the aim of her research is to establish safety and efficacy for the treatment.

MRSA has lately been a deadly scourge in healthcare facilities, prisons and nursing homes, and is an increasingly common cause of skin infections in these settings. Though some available antibiotics are effective against MRSA, antibiotic resistance is growing, leaving doctors with fewer options to treat it.

"The long-term goal would be to take this clay and be able to use it to treat other types of infections," Otto said. Ideally, Otto said the clay could be used as a topical application in combination with oral antibiotics.

Big Pharma has largely pulled out of the antibiotics arena, but MRSA has remained an area of interest for vaccine development. Pfizer ($PFE), along with competitors GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Novartis ($NVS) and Sanofi ($SNY), are all in the race for a MRSA vaccine.

- see the abstract