January 27, 2016 8:57 pm
Updated: January 27, 2016 11:56 pm

First Nations’ clay is antibacterial, UBC researchers say

WATCH: An ancient clay used for centuries by B.C. First Nations could hold the key to fighting bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Linda Aylesworth reports.

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An ancient healing clay used by the Heiltsuk First Nation could be the answer to battling bacteria in a future where antibiotics no longer work.

University of British Columbia researchers have published a study that shows the rare mineral clay destroying several different strains of drug-resistant bacteria. These types of bacteria have become a major problem in hospitals, largely because they’ve become resistant to traditional antibiotics.

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And it’s a problem that’s only getting worse.

UBC microbiologist Julian Davies, who co-authored the study, says researchers are desperately searching for an alternative.

“Antibiotics are expensive and most importantly, they are threatened by resistance…the whole antibiotic industry is in turmoil.”

In the past, the Heiltsuk First Nations people consumed the greyish-blue clay to treat ulcers and other stomach ailments and applied it to their skin to treat irritations and burns. The rare clay is from a 400,000-tonne deposit in Kisameet Bay, 400 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, and was formed nearly 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.

Kisameet Bay, British Columbia is about 400 km north of Vancouver on the West Coast.

University of British Columbia

Davies and UBC researcher Shekooh Behroozian were approached by Kisameet Glacial Clay Inc. to study the clay, as the business was hoping to market it for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.

The results were astonishing.

The clay killed everything in their samples. Most importantly, it was effective against “ESKAPE” bacteria, six strains of bacteria known for their ability to “escape” antibiotic treatment. They cause the majority of serious hospital infections, leading to severe illness and in some cases, even death.

READ MORE: Drug industry to fight superbugs together with governments

Davies said the use of clay is “interesting and unusual”, as it is not commonly studied in the scientific world. But it could be the answer when antibiotics fail.

“[Clay] is not a defined product – it’s a mixture of all kinds of things. But it works, and that’s all I’m worried about.”

The researchers have planned future research to determine what exactly what makes the clay effective, and will conduct clinical studies and toxicity tests before it can be used for therapeutic purposes.

The next stage of research includes clinical studies and toxicity testing before it can be used for therapeutic purposes.

Linda Aylesworth / Global News

– With files from Linda Aylesworth

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