Researchers from Oxford University have discovered a potential “goldmine” for new drugs in one of the unlikeliest places – ticks.
They found that proteins contained in the parasites’ saliva are excellent at stopping inflammation of the heart, which can cause myocarditis and lead to heart failure.
Ticks are remarkably good at biting and feeding without being detected. This allows them to stay attached to animals and humans for up to 10 days while they feed on their blood.
The reason tick bites don’t cause any pain or inflammation is because proteins in their saliva neutralise chemicals called chemokines in the host.
It’s now thought that ticks could be used to help treat other conditions, such as stroke and arthritis.
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.”
Traditionally, tick saliva was obtained by milking the tiny parasites using tubes. Nowadays, though, tick saliva proteins can be grown in yeast from synthetic genes, which allows large amounts to be produced.
It should be noted that all of the current research has only been carried out in a laboratory, so it will be several years before any trials are conducted with humans.