From bugs to drugs | 6/27/2017 | Staff
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A new study led by Prof Shoumo Bhattacharya has decoded the structure of unique proteins found in tick saliva and created new ones not found in nature, paving the way for a new generation of "Swiss-army knife' anti-inflammatory drugs, with customized extensions to block different inflammatory pathways.

Previous research by Prof Bhattacharya underlines that tick saliva can be a pharmacological gold mine, potentially yielding many new drugs which could treat disorders ranging from cardiovascular diseases and stroke to arthritis. This previous work identified a group of tick saliva proteins called evasins, which bind to and neutralize chemokines, a group of chemicals key to causing inflammation in the body.

Researchers - Trick - Evasins - Pathway - Routes

Now the researchers have worked out the structural trick that enables tick evasins to block a complex pathway that has multiple routes to the same response. What's more, they can now manipulate this structure to make new, custom-made proteins based on tick evasins.

But why ticks?

Ticks - Time - Dinosaurs - Years - Ways

"Ticks have been around since before the time of dinosaurs, and they've have a few million years to evolve ways of biting and feeding off animals without triggering their inflammatory cascade," says Professor Bhattacharya. "If you're walking through a tick-infected field and get bitten by a tick, you're unlikely to even notice."

Once attached to an animal, ticks can feed for 8-10 days, successfully blocking pain, clotting and the body's normal inflammatory response to injury.

Inflammation - Part - Body - Immune - Response

This inflammation is part of the body's standard immune response: when tissues are damaged by for example, an infection, they send out distress signals, in the form of the chemokine proteins. White blood cells response to these signals and appear at the scene of infection or injury, to clear up damaged tissues and fight any infection.

"This process is usually helpful, but sometimes, the white blood cells basically lose the plot and cause further damage," says Professor Bhattacharya.

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