Monday, 8 October 2012

Natural Resources

Brazil is blessed with natural resources, a huge and fertile country exporting vast quantities of food around the world. There is even oil under the rolling South Atlantic, but it doesn´t stop there.

New medicines, new drugs, are often based on chemicals found naturally in nature and few countries have more nature than Brazil. That flower deep in the Amazon may hold the cure for any number of diseases, just as aspirin came from willows, digitalin from foxgloves, and the common anti-cancer drug Vincristine from the Madagascar periwinkle.

Cayenne Ticks, as shown in a Globo News report on amblyomin-X

It´s not a rule of nature that something has to be beautiful to be useful. Few animals are uglier or more unpleasant than the Cayenne Tick, Amblyomma cajennense, which lives to suck blood from any animal it can find, including man. Not only that, but it can transmit disease, including Sao Paulo fever, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If you see one biting you, don´t just flick it away, you might leave the head still biting you, or at least cause the tick to regurgitate it's infected saliva into your wound (what you should do is use forceps to grasp it as close to your skin as possible, and gently pull straight back, then disinfect the wound).

So how is this tick a good thing? Well, researchers at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo have isolated a compound from that saliva called amblyomin-X. It´s not quite clear how, but amblyomin-X persuades cancer cells to self-destruct, whilst leaving healthy cells alone. Even better, it stops angiogenesis, which is now tumours get their own blood supply - so the tumour cannot grow, cannot spread around the body, and basically "starves".

 Harvesting tick saliva (Globo News)

Amblyomin-X works very well on rats, and next year should enter human trials. If these are successful it would be historic, because it would be the very first medicine developed from discovery to industrial production in Brazil.

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