5 Medical Breakthroughs We Owe to Animals
According to Russian folklore, milk in a bucket stays fresh if you put a frog in it. In studying the skin of the Russian Brown frog, scientists found antibiotic substances that frogs used to survive in wet places and that could lead to new anti-bacterial treatments for humans. It’s an intriguing discovery, though one suspects the frogs may not have been too happy about being placed in a bucket of milk. Here are five other animals to whom we owe medical breakthroughs.
1. New Staples Based on Porcupine Quills
North American porcupines have around 30,000 quills with a unique feature: their tips contain backward-pointing barbs that make it far easier for them to penetrate the skin rather than to be pulled out. Scientists from Harvard Medical School have found that the barbed quills are four times as hard to pull out as quills without the barbs. When pulled out backwards, the barbs flare out and snag onto tissue fibers.
This is very bad news for dogs and other animals who end up with a face full of quills. But their “dual functionality” has offered biomedical engineers new insights into a bio-engineered design for surgical staples (which, for sure, one would rather not be easily dislodged).
2. Discoveries About Tumors and Diabetes Thanks to a Cat Named Henry
As Care2 blogger Judy Molland recently wrote, specialists in animal and human medicine have been collaborating with the goal of improving both animal and public health. Henry, a 12-year-old Maine coon, required surgery to remove a tumor from his pituitary gland that was causing him to produce growth hormone in excess and to develop uncontrolled diabetes. He needed regular insulin injections that he was hardly happy about.
Fortunately, after the surgery, as well as radiation therapy and drug treatment, Henry has been back to his old self. Neurosurgeons and other scientists are hopeful that they can learn more about diabetes and about what caused the tumor to grow by studying its cells.
3. A Technique To Help Paralyzed Dogs Walk Again
By transplanting nasal cells from paralyzed dogs into their spinal cords, scientists have made it possible for some to walk again. Scientists are hopeful that, in combination with bioengineering and drug treatments, similar transplants could one day be developed to help humans with spinal cord injuries to regain movement.
4. Bandages That Stick When Wet Inspired By Geckos’ Feet
Studying how geckos are quite comfortable on surfaces that are vertical, slanted and tilting backwards has led to the creation of new, durable dry adhesives including “Geckskin” — a substance that can hold 700 pounds on a smooth wall. The lizards’ sticky feet have also helped to create bandages that stay put when wet and have been used successfully in surgery on rats instead of stiches.
5. Clues For New Treatments For AIDS Thanks to Bats
White nose syndrome is an infection that causes bats’ muscle, skin and connective tissue to waste and that has taken the lives of some 6.7 million creatures. From investigating the carcasses of bats who have survived the syndrome only to then “[succumb] to their own immune systems,” wildlife pathologists have made a discovery that might be helpful in understanding AIDS. The bats experience an overractive immune response, immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome (IRIS). As the Life Lines blog explains,
While hibernating, the immune system of these bats are down-regulated making them more vulnerable to white nose syndrome infections that results in muscle, skin and connective tissue wasting. When the bats arouse from hibernation, their immune systems go into hyperdrive attempting to eliminate the pathogen, resulting in the destruction of not only the disease, but also healthy tissues and cells.
Like the bats with white nose syndrome, people with AIDS have overreacting immune systems following antiretroviral treatments and also suffer severe tissue damage. Scientists are hopeful that they might find new treatments from AIDS from studying the bats — and also, let’s hope, ways to save bats from devastating white nose syndrome.
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Photo by angies