Sharks and antiviral medications may seem like they have nothing in common. Au contraire mon ami, you may be surprised to know that sharks are at the cutting edge of viral research. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that a compound in sharks has the potential to be used as a “broad spectrum” antiviral agent in humans.
The particular compound is known as squalamine. Dr. Michael Zasloff first discovered squalamine in the tissue of dogfish sharks in 1993. Doctor Zasloff is also the lead author of the newest study. Sharks are known for their natural resistance to diseases and viruses despite their primitive immune systems. One article even reports that sharks are immune to all viruses! Doctor Zasloff realized that squalamine is an important contributing factor to sharks’ effective immune systems. Before scientists realized squalamine’s antiviral potential they discovered its ability to inhibit the growth of rapidly multiplying blood vessels like the ones in tumors and retinal diseases. Human clinical trials involving squalamine as a treatment for cancer and retinal disorders have already begun.
Sharks are immune to all known diseases
Doctor Zasloff eventually recognized that squalamine could also be used to combat viruses. Squalamine’s virus-killing abilities are attributed to its positive charge. When squalamine enters a cell it adheres to the cell’s negatively charged inner membrane. In the process squalamine knocks off positively charged proteins that cling to the inner membrane. While squalqmine in no way hurts cells its actions do hinder viruses. Viruses require the proteins on the inner membranes in order to reproduce in cells. Doctor Zasloff notes sthat “there is no other compound known to science that does this-this is a remarkable property.”
Squalamine’s effectiveness against several viruses gives it a desirable advantage over current antiviral drugs. Today’s antiviral drugs only target one specific virus. The problem with this is that viruses are always mutating and will eventually become drug resistant. Scientists hypothesize that viruses are less likely to become resistant to squalamine since it stops the viruses from infecting the cells rather than “attacking viral proteins.”