Ancient ill omens, terrifying movie monsters, sparkly young adult romance — the vampire bat has inspired many horrors thanks to its blood-sucking diet. Now, the macabre nocturnal creatures may prove beneficial to more than just pop culture. TIME.com reports that an enzyme in vampire bat saliva could be a powerful stroke treatment.
The wryly named Draculin is a drug being developed from the enzyme desmoteplase, or DSPA, a natural blood thinner used by the bats to increase their target’s blood flow. Researchers have found that DSPA is as effective, if not more so, than the current blood clot treatment used in patients suffering an ischemic stroke.
Ischemic strokes account for 87% of strokes each year in the United States, affecting patients by clogging blood vessels in the brain and cutting off vital blood and oxygen flow. The current treatment, called tissue plasminogen activator or tPA, can only be administered within the first three hours of a stroke. After that time, doctors believe the risk of additional brain damage from tPA far outweigh its benefit. Draculin may not carry the same expiration time.
According to Scientific American:
[Researchers at Monash University in Australia] found that DSPA attacked fibrin, but did not act upon two brain receptors known to promote brain damage. The scientists therefore suggest that DSPA could be administered up to nine hours after stroke onset without adverse effects.
Doctors are hopeful that DSPA will increase survival and rehabilitation rates for patients who are not able to seek immediate treatment.
“We would like to offer an option to our patients at any time they come in after a stroke,” said Dr. Michel Torbey, a lead researcher studying DSPA at Ohio State. “Unfortunately, the longer it takes for them to come, the less options are available, because the damage has already occurred in the brain.”
Although DSPA was discovered in 2003, it did not begin drug trials until 2006 at the Ohio State University Medical Center. The study determined that Draculin was safe and well tolerated by recipients — none of whom grew fangs or began sleeping in coffins. Ohio State is currently conducting a new, nationwide clinical study to measure the drug’s results in stroke patients.
Photo credit: Biella "Gabriella" Coleman