Tardigrade Proteins Stabilize Life-Saving Meds Without Refrigeration

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Introduction to the Study of Tardigrades and Their Survival Mechanisms

The University of Wyoming conducted a study to investigate the survival mechanisms of tardigrades, tiny organisms that can endure extreme conditions. As a result, the research team has made a significant breakthrough that could potentially provide life-saving treatments to individuals living in areas without access to refrigeration.

Thomas Boothby, an assistant professor of molecular biology, and his fellow researchers discovered that both natural and engineered tardigrade proteins can be utilized to stabilize a crucial medication for individuals with hemophilia and other illnesses, even in harsh environments without refrigeration. The results of the study are described in detail in the Scientific Reports journal.

Factor VIII: An Essential but Unstable Medication

Factor VIII is a vital pharmaceutical used to treat genetic disorders and severe bleeding in humans. Despite its effectiveness in treating these conditions, it has a significant drawback: it is inherently unstable and breaks down when not stored at a precise temperature range. This limitation prevents individuals in underdeveloped regions, natural disaster zones, space missions, or combat situations from accessing the drug because they lack the necessary refrigeration and electricity infrastructure to maintain it.

According to Thomas Boothby, an assistant professor of molecular biology, tardigrade proteins can be utilized to stabilize Factor VIII and other pharmaceuticals in a stable, dry state at room or elevated temperatures. This proof-of-concept study has the potential to provide life-saving medication to individuals worldwide, regardless of their location or access to refrigeration.

scientists use tardigr 1 Tardigrade Proteins Stabilize, Tardigrade, Life-Saving
The human blood clotting cascade. The clotting cascade of human blood plasma follows two prominent pathways; intrinsic, measured by Activated Partial Thromboplastin Time (aPTT) and extrinsic, measured by Prothrombin Time (PT). To activate the intrinsic pathway, Human Blood Clotting Factor XII (FXII) acts as the first protein in a cascade of clotting factor activation. FXII activates FXI which activates FIX which finally activates FVIII. FVIII subsequently binds to and activates FX. To activate the extrinsic pathway, FVII forms a complex with Tissue Factor, activating FX. After activation of FX, both coagulation pathways converge. FX forms a complex with FV, converting prothrombin into thrombin. Thrombin then converts fibrinogen into fibrin, in turn creating a fibrin clot. Human plasma deficient in Factor VIII (highlighted in red) is unable to clot properly through the intrinsic pathway, unless supplemented with this factor, and thus clots more slowly. Adapted from Zaragoza and Espinoza-Villafuerte, 2017. Credit: Scientific Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-31586-9

Tardigrade Proteins and Their Potential in Medication Stabilization

Tardigrades, or water bears, are small creatures that measure less than half a millimeter in length and can survive in extreme conditions. They can survive complete desiccation, freezing temperatures just above absolute zero, temperatures exceeding 300 degrees Fahrenheit, extremely high levels of radiation, and the vacuum of outer space. They produce a sugar called trehalose and a protein called CAHS D, which help them survive.

Applications of the Tardigrade Protein Stabilization Technique

The research paper states that Boothby and his team adjusted the biophysical characteristics of trehalose and CAHS D to stabilize Factor VIII, with CAHS D being the most appropriate option for treatment. As a result of this stabilization, Factor VIII can be stored in harsh environments without refrigeration, including in conditions of repeated dehydration/rehydration, extreme heat, and long-term dry storage.

The Future of Tardigrade Protein Research

The researchers behind the study believe that the same stabilization techniques can be applied to other biologics, including stem cells, vaccines, antibodies, blood, and blood products, all of which are pharmaceuticals containing or derived from living organisms. According to Boothby, this research demonstrates that dry preservation methods can effectively protect biologics, which offers a logistically simple, convenient, and economically viable way to stabilize life-saving medicines.

This breakthrough has significant potential to support global health initiatives in remote or developing parts of the world, as well as creating a productive and safe space economy that relies on new technologies to break our dependence on refrigeration for storing medicine, food, and other biomolecules.

The team hopes to apply their findings to address other societal and global health challenges, such as water scarcity. Their work could potentially lead to the development of engineered crops that can withstand harsh environments.

More information: Maxwell H. Packebush et al, Natural and engineered mediators of desiccation tolerance stabilize Human Blood Clotting Factor VIII in a dry state, Scientific Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-31586-9www.nature.com/articles/s41598-023-31586-9

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