Drug traffickers are stopping scientists from reaching vampire bats, which could hold the cure for high blood pressure.
Although the blood-sucking mammals are more associated with Halloween, researchers discovered their venom is rich in proteins that boost blood flow.
These proteins could revolutionise the treatment of a host of conditions, including heart failure, kidney disease and burns by boosting oxygen and nutrients to the affected area.
But the scientists are being held back from accessing the bats after the remote area in Mexico where they were found has been ‘taken over by drug traffickers’, making it ‘too dangerous’ for the researchers to go.
The research was carried out by the University of Queensland and led by Dr Bryan Fry, an associate professor at the school of biological sciences.
‘We can’t access our original field site in Mexico anymore, because we’re told that region has been taken over by drug traffickers,’ Dr Fry said.
‘It’s now too dangerous for even my Mexican colleagues to go there, let alone a gringo like me.
‘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.’
The researchers analysed a new class of peptides – the building blocks of proteins – called CGRP, which are found in the venom of the common vampire bat Diphylla ecaudata.
Results – published in the journal Toxins – reveal CGRP relaxes the lining of the vessels that take blood from the aorta – the largest artery of the body – to the gastrointestinal tract in rats.
Stiff arteries restrict blood flow to the organs and tissues, which can lead to angina, heart disease and kidney failure.
‘The peptides are mutated forms of the Calcitonin Gene Related Peptide (CGRP), used by our bodies to relax blood vessels,’ Dr Fry said.
‘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.
‘This could potentially help doctors in the treatment of a range of disorders featuring heightened pressure in small blood vessels, or may be able to improve blood flow to damaged or transplanted tissue such as skin grafts.’
Vampire bats are thought to have evolved to have these peptides to stop blood clotting while they feed on prey.
Dr Fry adds the findings highlight the importance of looking after the environment.
‘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,’ he said.
‘Venomous animals around the world are under threat, even more so than most other threatened or endangered species, due to deliberate persecution driven by fear or misunderstanding.’