Could an extremophile hold the secret to treatment of devastating injuries? | 1/28/2019 | Staff
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The gentle teddy-bear features of this polyonymic animal belie its hardy nature.

Capable of withstanding dehydration and cosmic radiation and surviving temperatures as low as -450 degrees F and as high as 300 degrees F, this eight-limbed microscopic creature holds the key to one of biology's greatest secrets—extreme survival.

Tardigrades - Imagination - Astrobiologists—several - Clan - Members

Tardigrades have captivated the imagination of astrobiologists—several of the clan's members have traveled to space as part of research experiments—and tantalized the fantasies of sci-fi fans as a giant alien creature in Star Trek: Discovery.

Now scientists at Harvard Medical School (HMS) are wondering: Can the physiology of this extremophile yield insights that can be applied to humans?

HMS - Group - Colleagues - University - Washington

The HMS group, working with colleagues at the University of Washington, Seattle, and MIT, are hoping to answer this very question in an ambitious new project aimed at deciphering the structure and function of several tardigrade proteins suspected to play a role in the organism's resilience, and then use these proteins as the basis for human therapies that halt tissue damage and prevent cell death.

The team's goal is to engineer an optimized version of these proteins and use them to slow down metabolic activity in injured cells—the biological equivalent of hitting the pause button on cellular processes, including damage-causing inflammation, infection and, ultimately, cell demise.

Team - Goal - Therapy - Damage - Injuries

The team's ultimate goal is to develop a protein-based therapy that can halt tissue damage in traumatic injuries, heart attacks, strokes and sepsis, among other conditions.

"It really started out as a wacky, high-risk idea," said Pamela Silver, the project's principal co-investigator and professor of systems biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and member of the Harvard Wyss Institute at Harvard.

Spring - Silver - Grant - Challenge - US

In the spring of 2018, Silver came across a grant challenge posted by the U.S. military seeking novel solutions to stabilizing traumatic injuries in combat zones. She knew just whose brain to pick.

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