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B.C. clay shows antibacterial activity against highly resistant pathogens

Julian Davies, PhD (right) and Shekooh Behroozian (left) display a sample of the clay being studied. Credit: UBC Public Affairs

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered that a naturally-occurring clay found in Kisameet Bay, B.C. demonstrates potent antibacterial action against a range of multidrug-resistant pathogens associated with many surgical wound infections – the so-called ESKAPE bacteria (Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pnumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Enterobacter species.)

In an article published in mBio (Jan. 26, 2016; 7(1):e01842-15), the authors detail a broad-spectrum and potent antibacterial activity from the clay against the target pathogens, and suggest that further research is recommended to develop a therapeutic option from the material for the treatment of infections caused by the ESKAPE pathogens.

“Infections caused by ESKAPE bacteria are essentially untreatable and contribute to increasing mortality in hospitals,” UBC microbiologist Julian Davies PhD, principal investigator of the Davies Lab at the Microbiology and Immunology Department in the Faculty of Science at UBC and co-author of the paper, said in a press release from the university.

Dr. Davies and fellow Davies Lab researcher Shekooh Behroozian conducted the in vitro testing in which 16 strains of ESKAPE bacteria sampled from sources including Vancouver General Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and the University of British Columbia’s wastewater treatment pilot plant were exposed to the clay, suspended in water. All strains were killed, according to the press release.

The clay deposit is located in the Heiltsuk First Nation’s traditional territory approximately 400km north of Vancouver, and has been used medicinally by local First Nations people for centuries, according to the paper’s authors, with anecdotal reports of its use to treat ulcerative colitis, duodenal ulcer, arthritis, neuritis, phlebitis, skin irritation, and burns. No toxic side effects have been reported in the human use of the clay, according to the press release.

“After 50 years of over-using and misusing antibiotics, ancient medicinals and other natural mineral-based agents may provide new weapons in the battle against multidrug-resistant pathogens,” said Dr. Davies in the release.

Detailed clinical studies and toxicity testing are still needed, according to the authors. Loretta Li, PhD, a professor in UBC’s Department of Civil Engineering, is also conducting mineralogical and chemical analyses of the clay, according to the release.

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