Aside from denoting correct answers, ticks are best known as blood-sucking parasites that can infect humans and animals with nasty viruses, such as the debilitating Lyme’s disease. But the reputation of ticks may soon be due an upgrade after a study demonstrated that proteins found in their saliva could be used to treat a type of heart disease which can cause the sudden death of young people. And that’s not all. Thanks to the presence of up to 3,000 proteins in tick saliva, the team of scientists from Oxford University believe a whole array of new treatments for other conditions or diseases, including strokes or arthritis, could one day be developed. For now the researchers are excited by the results of lab work that showed proteins in tick saliva were able to stop inflammation of the heart which can cause myocarditis and then heart failure.
The ability of ticks to bite without being noticed for up to 10 days is key. They are able to do this because proteins found in their saliva neutralise chemicals called chemokines which otherwise would trigger inflammation in the host. As chemokines can also cause inflammation in human heart muscle, the researchers believe these same proteins could be used to treat Myocarditis and in the process save lives. Prof Shoumo Bhattacharya, BHF professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Oxford who led the research, said: “Myocarditis is a devastating disease, for which there are currently very few treatments. With this latest research, we hope to be able to take inspiration from the tick’s anti-inflammatory strategy and design a life-saving therapy for this dangerous heart condition.” Prof Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, is excited: “They may not be pretty, but these little creatures could hold the secret to better treatments for a whole range of diseases. There’s a long way to go, but tick saliva looks like an exciting, albeit unconventional, area of research.” Might take a while but it sounds like it is well worth sTicking at it.