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UW achieves scientific breakthrough thanks to a little help from the water bear

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Researchers at the University of Wyoming study of microscopic creatures called tardigrades that survive extreme conditions has led to a major breakthrough that could potentially lead to life-saving treatments being available to people in regions where refrigeration isn’t possible.

While appearing on Sheridan Media’s Public Pulse program, Director of Institutional Communications, Chad Baldwin, described the hardiness of tardigrades, a microscopic creature often called water bears. 

C. Baldwin

According to Baldwin, Thomas Boothby, an assistant professor of molecular biology, and colleagues have shown that natural and engineered versions of these tardigrade proteins, called CAHS D, and a sugar called trehalose.

Boothby and his colleagues determined that the sugar and protein can be used to stabilize an important pharmaceutical used to treat people with hemophilia and other conditions without the need for refrigeration — even amid high temperatures and other difficult conditions. 

The findings are detailed in Scientific Reports, an online, open access journal from the publishers of Nature.

Baldwin told listeners that the pharmaceutical, human blood clotting Factor VIII, is an essential therapeutic used to treat genetic disease and instances of extreme bleeding, but without refrigeration, the compound breaks down. 

C. Baldwin

According to the research paper, Boothby and his colleagues fine-tuned the biophysical properties of both trehalose and CAHS D to stabilize Factor VIII, noting that CAHS D is most suitable for the treatment. The stabilization allows Factor VIII to be available in austere conditions without refrigeration, including repeated dehydration/rehydration, extreme heat and long-term dry storage.

The researchers believe the same thing can be done with other biologics — pharmaceuticals containing or derived from living organisms — such as vaccines, antibodies, stem cells, blood and blood products.

According to Baldwin, Boothby and other researchers hope that their discoveries can be applied to address other global and health issues, including water scarcity, and better ways of generating engineered crops that can cope with harsh environments.

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