A Potential New Antiviral Drug, Courtesy of Sharks

I knew sharks were b.a., but I did not know that sharks are immune to all viruses. Now a “cholesterol-like compound” in sharks that was being studied for the potential to treat cancer and eye disorders has been found to be able to prevent viruses from reproducing inside a cell. And it’s called squalamine, which is kind of fun to say. Usually antiviral drugs are only useful against one particular type of virus, but it seems that this one could be a catch-all. From National Geographic:

A cholesterol-like compound found in dogfish sharks’ tissue has been shown to combat several viruses that cause hard-to-treat human diseases, such as dengue fever and hepatitis, a new study says…

“It’s a whole new approach to treatment of viral disease,” said study leader Michael Zasloff, of the Georgetown University Medical Center.

“It’s very possible we could cure several diseases we [now] treat as chronic infections.”

Squalamine is a positively charged molecule, so when it enters a cell, the molecule immediately sticks “like Velcro” to the cell’s inner membranes, which have negative charges, Zasloff said.

By doing so, squalamine “pops off” any positively charged proteins that were attached to the cell membrane—an action that does no harm to the cell, Zasloff noted.

When a virus invades a cell, it expects those proteins to be present on the cell membrane. Without them, the virus can’t reproduce.

“There is no other compound known to science that does this—this is a remarkable property,” Zasloff said…

In the study, squalamine thwarted infection of the dengue fever virus in human blood vessel cells and of hepatitis B and D in human liver cells—and with little harm to sharks. Shark tissue is no longer required to produce squalamine, which has been synthesized in the laboratory since 1995.

Zasloff and colleagues also discovered that squalamine inhibited yellow fever, eastern equine encephalitis virus, and murine cytomegalovirus in lab animals—in some cases curing the subjects, according to the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Fortunately squalamine can be synthesized in a lab, so we won’t have a pharmaceutical shark fin soup debacle on our hands. 

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