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Asia Minute: Australian Researchers Look to Sharks for Medical Help

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Sharks have long held an important place in Hawaiian history and culture. To many they are protectors, family guardians or “amakua.” Now researchers in Australia are using lessons from sharks to fight disease. HPR’s Bill Dorman explains in today’s Asia Minute.


The immune system of the shark has long been a point of fascination for researchers.

Sharks are resilient creatures.  Their wounds heal relatively quickly and they appear to be resistant to certain diseases - including cancer.

Now Australian scientists are developing a drug that copies the properties of an antibody in the blood of sharks.

And they believe the result could be used to treat a devastating lung disease.

The BBC reports researchers at Melbourne’s La Trobe University have developed a human protein that can kill the cells that cause idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or IPF.  IPF scars lung tissue, making it difficult to breathe.

The American Thoracic Society says the condition kills tens of thousands of people every year.

Scientists drew blood from a living wobbegong shark at the Melbourne Aquarium as part of their work, and they say no sharks were harmed in the development of the treatment.

Researchers hope it can also potentially be useful for people suffering from liver disease and the degeneration of eyesight due to age.

A company named AdAlta is working on a commercial application and hopes to begin human trials sometime next year.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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