Alligator blood extract promises to help fight superbugs

Biochemists from Louisiana in the U.S. say blood from alligators could help fight deadly 'superbugs' and other infections.

The researchers suggest the proteins in 'gator' blood could provide a powerful new source of antibiotics with which to fight superbugs infections associated with diabetic ulcers and severe burns which are resistant to conventional medication.

The study which is apparently the first to explore in detail the anti-microbial activity of alligator blood, found a range of other promising uses for the creature's antibiotic proteins.

The scientists say they could be used to combat Candida albicans yeast infections, which are a serious problem in AIDS patients and transplant recipients, who have weakened immune systems.

Co-author Dr. Mark Merchant, a biochemist at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, in Louisiana says there is a real possibility that people could be treated with an alligator blood product in the future.

Dr. Merchant has carried out other research which demonstrated that alligators have an unusually strong immune system quite different from that of humans and are able to fight microorganisms such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria without having prior exposure to them.

The researchers believe this is an evolutionary adaptation to promote quick wound healing, as alligators are often injured during fierce territorial battles.

Along with colleagues from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, the researchers collected blood samples from American alligators after injecting them with a substance to stimulate their immune systems.

They then isolated the disease-fighting white blood cells (leucocytes) from which they extracted the active proteins.

Tests carried out in the laboratory revealed that tiny amounts of these protein extracts killed a wide range of bacteria, including MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the deadly bacteria which are now increasingly becoming problematic in the community outside the hospital setting.

Superbugs such as MRSA are such a problem because they are resistant to multiple antibiotics and as a result cause thousands of deaths each year.

The proteins extracts also killed six out of eight different strains of Candida albicans, and earlier research also suggests that the blood proteins may help fight HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The scientists are currently working to identify the exact chemical structures of the anti-microbial proteins in order to determine which proteins are most effective at killing different microbes.

They suggest the gator blood extract possibly contains at least four promising substances.

Once they have the chemical structures the scientists can begin developing them into antibacterial or antifungal drugs, including pills and creams, for fighting infections and they say such creams show particular promise as topical ointments.

Dr. Merchant says gator-blood creams could conceivably be rubbed onto the foot ulcers of patients with diabetes to help prevent the type of uncontrolled infections that lead to amputations, and could also be applied to the skin of burn patients to keep infections at bay until damaged skin can heal.

Dr. Merchant suggests that the proteins might be called “alligacin" and says if the research continues to show promise, the drugs could be available in seven to ten years time.

The researchers say similar antimicrobial substances might also be found in related animals such as crocodiles and they plan to study blood samples from alligators and crocodile species throughout the world to test their disease-fighting potential.

The research was funded by state of Louisiana and the National Science Foundation and was presented at the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

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