A chemical first found in the liver of Dogfish has been found to be a powerful and safe antiviral medication for humans.
Scientists had noted the sharks' naturally high levels of immunity to viral attack, so set about researching the mechanisms behind this.
Previous research had already discovered the potent anti-bacterial qualities of a chemical called squalamine found in the shark's liver, but further tests with the chemical uncovered its effectiveness as an antiviral against a range of both human and animal viruses.
Studies on animals showed squalamine was effective at controlling several potentially fatal viruses with some animals being cured by treatment.
Since 1995 squalamine has been synthesised in the laboratory, meaning sharks no longer need to be killed for the research.
Synthetically produced squalamine has been trialled on humans where it inhibited blood vessel growth in cancers with no major side effects.
Researchers now hope that with its ease of manufacture and excellent safety profile squalamine can be fast tracked as a possible new therapy for a wide range of viral diseases including hepatitis, dengue and yellow fever.
Lead researcher Dr. Michael Zasloff, who discovered squalamine in 1993, now believes it is just one of a family of related compounds to be found in sharks that protect them from viruses. "We may be able to harness the sharks' novel immune system to turn all of these antiviral compounds into agents that protect humans against a wide variety of viruses," he said. "That would be revolutionary. While many antibacterial agents exist, doctors have few antiviral drugs to help their patients, and few of those are broadly active."
For more information see the paper; M.Zasloff, A.Paige Adams, B.Beckerman, A.Campbell, Z.Han, E.Luijten, I.Meza, J.Julander, A.Mishra, W.Qu, J.Taylor, S.Weaver and G.Wong Squalamine as a broad-spectrum systemic antiviral agent with therapeutic potential, P.N.A.S. Journal, September 20, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1108558108.
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