The World’s Toughest Animal Could One Day Save Your Life

Image: rukanoga – Depositphotos.

They were shot with a gas cannon to prove their candidacy for panspermia, are said to have survived the crash of the lunar probe Beresheet on the Moon, can live without water, withstand radiation, survive freezing and they are expected to be one of the last life forms on Earth when the sun begins to go out in about five billion years.

So it’s no surprise that everyone’s favorite microscopic creature has another superpower up its sleeve: smart chemistry unique to tardigrades that can stabilize drugs without refrigeration. It has enormous potential to deliver lifesaving treatments to those in need.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming focused on one of the main survival skills of tardigrades: the anhydrobiosis. The team believe that the animal’s ability to enter reversible suspended animation in the face of extreme water loss from cells could provide the same stable, dry storage for biological drugs that would otherwise require a refrigerated environment.

Biologics, vaccines, antibodies, stem cells, blood and other blood products come from living organisms and require cold conditions to prevent heat from breaking down the protein and destroying it. One that relies on this prohibitive cold chain infrastructure is human blood clotting factor VIII (FVIII), which has among its therapeutic applications the treatment of genetic diseases such as haemophilia A and those that occur with physical trauma and extreme bleeding. .

Taking advantage of a specific protein and sugar that the microscopic water bear produces in anhydrobiosis, researchers found that it could offer desiccation shields similar to FVIII, meaning the biological could be dehydrated and then rehydrated to be used without losing its natural properties. . In addition, their study shows that FVIII remained stable for 10 weeks in its processed form.

In underdeveloped regions, during natural disasters, during spaceflight or on the battlefield, access to refrigerators and freezers, as well as enough electricity to run these infrastructures, can be scarce. Our work is proof-of-principle that we can stabilize factor VIII, and probably many other drugs, in a stable, dry state at room or even elevated temperatures using tardigrade proteins, and thus deliver essential, life-saving drugs to anyone. the world and everywhere. .

Thomas Boothby, associate professor of molecular biology at UW.

Use of species Hypsibius dujardini, the team developed a treatment based on abundant cytosolic heat-soluble proteins (CAHS) and trehalose sugar. Specifically, the CAHS D protein protects enzymes in their dehydrated state, forming gelatinous filaments to keep the animal’s cellular structure intact. When hydration returns, the filaments are removed without causing cellular stress.

By taking the biophysical properties of CAHS D and trehalose, the team was able to stabilize FVIII, opening the door to the development of this transport and storage technology across the entire spectrum of biologics.

This study demonstrates that dry storage methods can be effective in protecting biologics, providing a practical, logistically simple, and economically viable way to stabilize life-saving drugs. This will benefit not only global health initiatives in remote or developing regions of the world, but also foster a safe and productive space economy, which will depend on new technologies that break our reliance on refrigeration for drug storage, food and other biomolecules.

Thomas Bootby


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