02/08/2016 12:56 EST | Updated 02/08/2017 05:12 EST

A 1,000-Year-Old B.C. Remedy May Help Fight Antibiotic Resistance


It's been nearly two years since the World Health Organization called the rise in antibiotic resistance a crisis. Since that time, public health officials have sought new answers to prepare for an uncertain future.

While the idea of making new and stronger antibiotics continues to explored, its popularity has faded. In its place, researchers around the world are examining new ways to combat antibiotic resistance. One particular route to success is to review historical successes in medicinal treatment.

Long before antibiotics were available, natural and alchemic solutions were developed and used to help people with infections. Granted, some of them were not entirely effective, yet a few ideas have showed their potential.

Perhaps the most intriguing came last summer when a 1,000-year old-remedy was shown to have the ability to kill the antibiotic resistant bacterium, Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The researchers at the time simply followed the recipe from the book and then tested the resultant potion against the bacteria. Sure enough, there was success.

Going back through the literature is one way to approach this retrospective look at medicine. Another way is to examine traditional methods passed down through the ages. The knowledge of healers is extensive and through discussions and collaborations, some of these therapeutic options may be tested and developed for today. With the proper research, the success can be reproduced and with further analysis, the mechanism understood.

Last week, one such venture has led to a possible route to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria. A team of researchers from British Columbia revealed one traditional practice may offer a possible option to treat antibiotic resistant infections. But unlike many practices which rely on plant extracts and other naturally processed items, this option quite literally comes straight from the Earth.

In the Great Bear Rain Forest on B.C.'s Central Coast, there is a region known as the Kisameet Bay. The clay from this area has been used for centuries by the Heiltsuk Nation in therapeutic practice.

Thanks to research done in the 1940s, the chemical components of the soil are known, and to little surprise do show potential for medicinal therapy. The combination of salts and minerals make the clay a prime option to help relieve a variety of ailments.

For the team, however, the constituents offered more than human relief. Many of the salts were known to have antimicrobial properties. Best of all, no amount of antibiotic resistance would be able to stop the killing action. All that was needed was to find a suitable group of bacteria for testing.

For the team, there was no better option than the ESKAPE pathogens. This small group of antibiotic resistant organisms: Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacter had long been identified as major causes of antibiotic resistant infections in healthcare and also in the community. If the clay could take out these species, they would have the foundation upon which to build.

The experiments were straightforward. Cultures of these bacteria were collected and then exposed to a one per cent solution of clay. After five and 24 hours, the bacteria were counted and any loss in numbers was recorded. For the soil to be a success, at least 99.99 per cent of the bacteria would have to be killed off.

When the results came back, the clay had most definitely proved its worth. For the majority of the bacterial species, that 99 per cent was seen within five hours.

In most cases, by the 24-hour mark, the bacteria were all dead. It was an incredible result as the combination of concentration and time made for an excellent therapeutic option.

To be sure the killing action was due to the clay and not some other process, the team did run controls using nothing but water. There were some reductions in numbers, but they were far less impressive than the clay. The results all but confirmed the clay was not only antimicrobial, but also could target antibiotic-resistant strains.

For the authors, the results suggest the clay from Kisameet Bay may be a viable option to help combat antibiotic resistance. Although the testing is still preliminary, the clay may possibly be used at the moment in cases where resistance is so great, there are few to no options left.

However, with further testing and moves towards regulatory approval, the clay may one day be a viable option to combat bacterial infections such that antibiotics can be saved for when they are truly needed.

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