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On November 13, 2009, Dr. Timothy Phillips of the Texas A&M
University (TAMU) College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences, had the distinct honor of delivering the Walston Chubb
Award Lecture at international research society Sigma Xi's annual
meeting at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel.
Phillips was invited to deliver the lecture as the recipient of
the 2009 Walston Chubb Award for Innovation. Presented by Sigma Xi,
the award recognizes Phillips' 25 years of work on chemical and
microbial contaminants of food, particularly aflatoxins. These are
toxins produced by certain species of fungi that commonly infect
corn and peanuts during drought conditions. Eating food
contaminated with aflatoxins results in a disease called
aflatoxicosis. Long-term exposure to aflatoxins can cause adverse
health effects such as suppression of the immune system and growth
Phillips' topic for the lecture, "Down to earth science:
Clay-based therapy for mycotoxin exposure in humans and animals,"
reflects his major achievement: demonstrating that a naturally
occurring, heat-processed clay called NovaSil (NS) can tightly and
preferentially bind aflatoxins in the gastrointestinal tract and
prevent their toxicity by reducing absorption and
Using molecular and animal models, Phillips and his research
group have shown (1) the mechanism of aflatoxin interaction at NS
clay surfaces and (2) the safety and efficacy of the clay for use
in human trials.
"Individuals who are at major risk of developing aflatoxicosis
include the 4.5 billion inhabitants of the 'hot zone'-the region
bound by the latitudes 40 degrees north and south of the equator.
Droughts in this region increase fungal infection and consequently
aflatoxin production," explained Phillips. "Guidelines that specify
permissible aflatoxin levels in foods are not always strictly
followed in the developing countries in this zone."
One of the most severe outbreaks of alfatoxin poisoning occurred
in 2004 in Kenya and was caused by the consumption of meals
prepared from aflatoxin-contaminated maize. Aflatoxin levels as
high as 8000 parts per billion (ppb) were detected. According to
the US Food and Drug Administration, human foods, with the
exception of milk, may contain up to 20 ppb aflatoxin. This
outbreak caused 125 deaths.
Based on a trial in the United States that confirmed the safety
of NS clay and determined the appropriate dose of this clay for use
in humans, Phillips and his group carried out a larger clinical
trial in humans in Ghana (in the Ejura-Sekyedumase district of the
Ashanti region) for testing the efficacy of NS clay. This site was
chosen for the study because the people in the region were found to
have biomarkers of aflatoxins in their blood and urine, indicating
The study was carried out for three months. A total of 177
volunteers were randomly assigned to three groups that were given
either a high dose, low dose or no dose (the placebo group) of NS
clay capsules per day.
The study found that 99 per cent of the participants reported no
clay-related side effects. Further, the clay significantly reduced
the level of exposure to aflatoxins.
"The findings support the potential application of NS clay for
the protection of human populations at high risk for
aflatoxicosis," noted Phillips.
Further studies include optimizing the dosage and delivery
methods of NS clay. Also, the safety of NS clay for long-term
therapy needs to be determined as well as the effectiveness of the
clay when included in human foods.
Phillips' research has resulted in the establishment of Texas
Enterosorbents, Inc., a TAMU-based company, which is involved in
commercializing products based on NS clay.
Phillips hopes that like iodine, the clay will be used as an
additive in table salt or in groundnut- or maize-based foods. He
also aims to make the clay available in the form of "satchels of
flavored clay" so that a solution of the powdered clay in water may
be taken as enterosorbent therapy in acute cases of aflatoxin
exposure. In a future study, he also aims to test the efficacy of
the clay when mixed with cornmeal since corn is especially prone to
Phillips hopes that this "field-practical, sustainable and
environmentally benign" approach can help positively impact the
lives of the 4.5 billion people in the developing world who are
seriously affected by aflatoxicosis.
Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843
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