Health News: Creepy Creatures Fight Disease, Infection and More

Sometimes the most innovative medical treatments come from the grossest of creatures.

Moths: An Allergy-Free Flu Vaccine

Stephanie Dalton Cowan

Flu vaccines are typically produced by growing influenza virus inside chicken eggs, which means people with egg allergies may develop a serious reaction. A newly FDA-approved vaccine, Flublok, avoids this risk by replicating the virus in cells derived from the fall armyworm moth. The method has been used for other vaccines but not for flu until now. What’s more, it allows for much quicker vaccine production, which will make more doses available sooner if there’s ever a flu pandemic. The new vaccine will be ready for the upcoming flu season.

Source: Manon Cox, PhD, president and CEO, Protein Sciences Corp., Meriden, Connecticut

Frogs: Fight Infections

Stephanie Dalton Cowan

Scientists are hoping to develop new drugs from the skin of the Russian brown frog after discovering that it secretes antimicrobial goo. Since many frogs live in dank, wet places teeming with germs, their skin must serve as armor against these microscopic threats, scientists theorized. When Moscow State University researchers extracted the goo from living frogs, they found 76 new chemicals with antibacterial and antifungal properties—some as powerful as prescription antibiotics. Researchers plan to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies to synthetically produce these substances.

Source: Albert T. Lebedev, PhD, Department of Organic Chemistry, Moscow State University

Scorpions: Crush Cancer

Stephanie Dalton Cowan

Scorpion venom may serve a surprisingly beneficial purpose: helping brain surgeons excise malignant tissue easily and accurately. Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and the University of Washington combined an extract of scorpion venom that naturally (and safely) targets only cancer cells with a molecule that glows under a special light. During surgery for brain tumors, doctors could inject the substance, spot glowing cancerous tissue, and remove every last millimeter of it, leaving only healthy tissue behind. Early studies suggest that the chemical could also illuminate prostate, breast, colon, and some skin cancers. Researchers have used the technique to treat cancer in animals; human trials are planned for the end of this year.

Source: Jim Olson, MD, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Washington

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Mussels: Manage Toothaches

Stephanie Dalton Cowan

Some tooth pain develops when the hard outer enamel wears away and exposes the softer underlying dentin, which is sensitive to stimuli such as hot and cold. Pain-fighting toothpastes and chewing gums contain minerals that can augment enamel but don’t adhere long enough to permanently rebuild it. For a solution, Chinese scientists turned to mussels, which secrete an adhesive to attach to underwater rocks, and they created a substance with similar sticky properties. When scientists coated worn-out teeth with the mussel-like adhesive and then soaked them in a bath of minerals, the teeth rebuilt a protective layer that simulates enamel. The discovery could lead to better products for sensitive teeth.

Source: ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces; Chun Hung Chu, PhD, University of Hong Kong; and Quan-Li Li, Anhui Medical University, China

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