"New" wonder drug evolved by sharks over 700 million years

Sharks have been swimming the oceans for close to a billion years. One reason for their success is “squalamine,” a unique chemical that protects sharks from all viruses and appears a possible cure for many human diseases:

the compound is already in human clinical trials for cancer and eye disorders, and several hundred people have been exposed without major side effects. The new study revealed that squalamine can also disrupt a virus’s life cycle and prevent it from replicating in both tissue cultures and live animals.

The story of how it works is fascinating:

Squalamine is a positively charged molecule, so when it enters a cell, the molecule immediately sticks “like Velcro” to the cell’s inner membranes, which have negative charges, Zasloff said.

By doing so, squalamine “pops off” any positively charged proteins that were attached to the cell membrane—an action that does no harm to the cell, Zasloff noted.

When a virus invades a cell, it expects those proteins to be present on the cell membrane. Without them, the virus can’t reproduce.

“There is no other compound known to science that does this—this is a remarkable property,” Zasloff said.

Humanity’s rapidly improving ability to study molecular biology could possibly trigger an incredible human health revolution in which studying other animals' evolutionary adaptations and mixing-and-matching them to improve our health lets us live remarkably longer, healthier lives.

Posted by James on Thursday, September 22, 2011