Mexican drug cartels hinder "wonder drug” research into vampire bat venom
New research, led by scientists from the University of Queensland, has described how a novel peptide found in the venom of vampire bats could pave the way for an entirely new class of blood-pressure "wonder drugs." However, the study is being stifled by drug cartels taking over the research site in Mexico, forcing the scientists to find new field sites and potentially setting the work back years.
The research team has been investigating the unique properties of vampire bat venom for several years now, with previous work describing how the venom contains several important anticoagulant compounds. The new study reveals yet another exciting new compound that could have potential human applications, this time a peptide that could be beneficial in treating everything from cardiovascular diseases to kidney disease.
"The peptides are mutated forms of the Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide (CGRP), used by our bodies to relax blood vessels," explains Bryan Fry, co-senior author on the new study. "The peptides from the bats are unusually selective in their mode of action, making them even more therapeutically useful than the CGRP, as they have fewer side-effects."
Fry suggests, with further research and development, the discovery of this incredible new compound could lead to a wide assortment of human applications. As well as treating diseases related to high pressure in small blood vessels, the compound could help enhance success rates for transplanted tissue, such as skin grafts, by improving blood flow to the new tissue.
Unfortunately, the progress of the research has been frustratingly stifled due to problems accessing the field site in Mexico. The vampire bat research has for years been situated in a spot near Cuernavaca, in Mexico's Morelos state, but it has become increasingly difficult to safely continue the work as drug traffickers have progressively moved into the area.
"We can't access our original field site in Mexico anymore, because we're told that region has been taken over by drug traffickers," says Fry.
While safety issues resulted in Fry and his Australian team ceasing their visitations to the site a few years ago, the drug cartel presence has reportedly gotten even worse in recent times. According to Fry, his Mexican research collaborators are now unable to access the site.
The researchers are optimistic that new sites can be secured to continue the work but it is unclear how long this will take. Fry suggests it could take several years to get the research up and running at a new location.
"We'll have to find new field sites that are safe to work in, but once we do that we'll be on track to find new peptide variations and potential wonder drugs, helping improve and save lives," says Fry.
The vampire bat study, and its subsequent human-driven hurdles, is a reminder that nature is still a tremendous source of undiscovered compounds. According to the World Wildlife Fund, over 70 percent of new small molecule drugs introduced over the last 25 years have come from natural sources, either animals or plants.
"This discovery is another example of why it's so important to broadly protect nature, since we can't predict where the next great biologically sourced drug discovery is going to come from," explains Fry.
The new study was published in the journal Toxins.
Source: University of Queensland