Health Designer worm spit supercharges healing

Designer worm spit supercharges healing

A molecule produced by a Thai liver parasite could be the solution to non-healing wounds.

Scientists from James Cook University’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine in Cairns have produced a version of the molecule on a large enough scale to make it available for laboratory tests and eventually clinical trials.

The molecule is known as granulin – one of a family of protein growth factors involved with cell proliferation.

“It’s produced by a parasitic liver fluke which originally came to our attention because it causes a liver cancer that kills 26,000 people each year in Thailand,” parasitologist Dr Michael Smout said.

As part of their work on a potential vaccine to protect people from the parasite, Dr Smout and his colleagues established that the granulin it produces has a hidden talent — it supercharges healing.

“We realised the molecule, discovered in worm spit, could offer a solution for non-healing wounds, which are a problem for diabetics, smokers and the elderly,” he said.

The researchers worked to establish which parts of the molecule were critical to wound healing, and to find a way to reproduce the active parts of granulin molecules, or peptides.

“In biology the shape and fold of a molecule can be critical to its function,” Dr Smout said.

“Getting the fold right is important – it can be like the difference between throwing a well folded paper plane or tossing a crumpled ball of paper.”

After testing different segments and structures the team found a way to mass-produce perfectly folded, wound-healing peptides.

“We have plenty of work to do before clinical trials, but we’re confident we have a very strong contender for what could one day be a cream that a diabetic could apply at home, avoiding a lengthy hospital stay and possible amputation,” said JCU Professor Alex Loukas.

“A take-home cream would be a great step forward for those with chronic wounds, and it would also save our health system a great deal of money.”

Statistically, one in every seven diabetics in Australia will have a non-healing wound at some point, and many suffer amputations as a result.

It’s estimated the long hospital stays involved in treating chronic wounds cost our healthcare system $3.7 billion per year.

Read more about the team’s methods and achievements here. Story credit: James Cook University newsroom.

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