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ASU researchers test antibacterial effects of healing clays

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Clay is most commonly associated with the sublime experience of the European spa where visitors have been masked, soaked and basted with this touted curative since the Romans ruled. If ASU geochemist Lynda Williams and microbiologist Shelley Haydel's research on the antibacterial properties of clays realizes its full potential, smectite clay could one day rise above cosmetic use to take its place comfortably with antibacterial behemoths like penicillin.

"We use maggots and leeches in hospitals, so why not clay?" Haydel poses. "I had a professor in graduate school say, 'Maybe perhaps once in your life, in your scientific career, you'll come across something that can change the world.' Sometimes I think: Is this it? Will this help some people?"

Theirs is an unusual research pairing. They are female scientists, each in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, yet pursuing different lines of scientific discovery. Williams is an associate research professor in the School of Earth and Science Exploration and studies clay mineralogy. Haydel is an assistant professor and expert in tuberculosis in the School of Life Sciences and with the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccinology in the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.

"People are interested in natural cures and I think that there is a lot of nature that we don't understand yet," Williams says. "What if we discover a mechanism for controlling microbes that had never been discovered before? It is these avenues, at the boundaries of scientific discovery, at the edges of my field and knowledge (and Shelley's), where such discoveries are made."

National Institutes of Health (NIH) program directors agreed. They awarded a $438,970 grant over two years to Williams and Haydel for the study of clay mineral alternative treatment for Buruli ulcer. What makes this award even more interesting is the rarity for a geochemist to net a NIH grant.

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Contact: Carol Hughes
carol.hughes@asu.edu
480-965-6375
Arizona State University
1-Nov-2006


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