Shark blood could help fight malaria and arthritis

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Scientists in Australia have found a way in which shark antibodies can be used to treat a wide range of diseases from malaria through to arthritis and even cancer.

Associate Professor Mick Foley and his colleague Dr Stewart Nuttall from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia have developed a technique where the shark genes can be modified to develop antibodies capable of ~fighting a whole spectrum of ailments.

Sharks have over 100 million antibodies that are amongst the smallest in the animal kingdom.

They are also far more biologically stable than human ones. This means that they can also be used to develop oral treatments rather than ones that need to be injected as they can withstand the extremes of the human digestive system.

By using shark genes and putting them into a genetic vector together with random proteins, the scientists have managed to manipulate the genetic material to produce antibodies to a wide range of ailments; in effect creating a ~library of potential new therapies in a test tube.

The shark antibodies produced have a finger-like loop that binds to the disease protein and stops the molecular function of the cell and therefore prevents it from invading the human cells. The biologists are working on ways in which they can select the relevant antibodies and then optimise it so that it binds very tightly to the protein in question.

This has been demonstrated especially well as a prevention of malaria where shark antibodies have been shown to inhibit invasion of red blood cells by 40-70%.

Professor Foley has irreverently dubbed this giving malaria the finger as when put back into a malarial parasite, this effectively kills the parasite. They are now working on binding the antibodies to molecules on cancer cells and inflammatory proteins.

This is not the first time that the potential of shark antibodies has been recognised, in fact Aberdeen based Haptogen have also been working on a similar idea for the last few years.

However, unlike the Australia based unit, the Scottish company rely on immunising the sharks and then harvesting the antibodies from the sharks blood - a technology that requires all scientists to have shark-handling experience.