JUN 27, 2017 9:00 AM PDT

Tick Saliva a 'Gold Mine' for New Heart Drugs?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

The bloodsucking parasites that carry Lyme disease may also be the key to new anti-inflammatory drugs that could prevent cardiac failures.

Image credit: Pixabay.com

Ticks are notorious for surreptitiously attaching themselves to hosts. In humans, a tick can latch on undetected for up to 10 days without inducing any pain or inflammation. While this is a dangerous scenario for the transfer of tick-borne illnesses, researchers at the Oxford University were intrigued. They wondered how ticks can suppress the inflammatory reactions by the host's’ body, and whether this mechanism can be exploited for other conditions.

As it turns out, the researchers found that tick saliva contains up to 3,000 proteins, which act to neutralize inflammatory molecules called chemokines in the host. Interestingly, the same mechanism - chemokine release - happens in people with myocarditis, a condition marked by cardiac inflammation that can lead to dilated cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Thus, the researchers likened the 3,000 tick saliva protein to a “gold mine” that could yield the answer for myocarditis.

"Myocarditis is a devastating disease, for which there are currently very few treatments,” said Dr. Shoumo Bhattacharya, professor at the University of Oxford, and the study’s senior author. "With this latest research, we hope to be able to take inspiration from the tick's anti-inflammatory strategy and design a life-saving therapy for this dangerous heart condition.”

It’s important to note that the real work has only begun for Bhattacharya and his team. That is, they will need to screen the 3,000 proteins to identify the ones relevant for myocarditis and the human inflammatory pathways. Fortunately, to study the compounds in the saliva, the team won’t be milking any ticks any time soon. Rather, they’ve devised a way to synthetically produce the tick saliva proteins using yeast.

If their “bug to drug” pipeline pans out, they hope to “be able to use the same drugs to treat other diseases where inflammation plays a big part, such as heart attack, stroke, pancreatitis, and arthritis."

"They may not be pretty, but these little creatures could hold the secret to better treatments for a whole range of diseases,” commented Dr. Jeremy Pearson, an associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation. "There's a long way to go, but tick saliva looks like an exciting, albeit unconventional, area of research."

Additional source: BBC

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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