US Pharm. 2008;33(7):HS-16.

A group of Louisiana biochemists attending the 235th national meeting of the American Chemical Society reported that proteins in alligator blood may provide new antibiotics to fight infections caused by pathogens that are resistant to more conventional medication.

In a first-of-its-kind study, the researchers set out to explore the antimicrobial activity of alligator blood. What they found was that not only do the proteins in alligator blood show promise for the development of newer and more powerful antibiotics, they may also hold the key to developing new drugs to fight Candida albicans yeast infections, which are prevalent in AIDS patients and transplant recipients, both of whom have weakened immune systems. Study coauthor Mark Merchant, PhD, a biochemist at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, said that, based on his research, there is a good likelihood that "you could be treated with an alligator blood product one day."

In previous studies, Dr. Merchant discovered that, unlike humans, alligators have an unusually strong immune system that can fight microorganisms such as fungi, viruses, and bacteria without prior exposure to them.

In collaboration with Kermit Murray and Lancia Darville from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Dr. Merchant and his team collected blood samples from American alligators and isolated disease-fighting white blood cells, from which they extracted the active proteins. It was discovered in the laboratory that these protein extracts killed a wide range of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The proteins also killed six out of eight different strains of C albicans.

The researchers are continuing to identify the exact chemical structures of the antimicrobial proteins to determine their effectiveness in fighting other infections. Dr. Merchant estimates that it would take seven to 10 years to develop drugs from these proteins.

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