Up until now, humans have always believed ticks to be dangerous; for them as well as for their pets- and rightly so, since ticks are responsible for various diseases including Lyme’s disease, Rocky Mountain fever and Tularemia etc. However; if new research is to be believed, a type of protein found in these parasites could actually be good for humans and could even prevent many infections in them and, as well as their pets. These include colds, cough and seasonal flu which affect hundreds of thousands of people each year. The fact that until now there is no known cure for these seasonal diseases is spelling new hope for people all around the globe.
Let us study how this tick protein can ‘trick’ the infection in humans.
What is the new tick protein that has been discovered which could help ward off infections in humans?
The protein is called IAFGP tick protein and is mainly found in the tick Ixodes Scapularis which is responsible for Lyme’s disease in humans/pets. This protein helps the tick survive and withstand extremely cold conditions. Basically it acts as the antifreeze solution that we use in our cars so that the wiper fluid does not freeze when temperatures drop. Same is true with the IAFGP tick protein. Its anti-freeze activity helps protect ticks in winter. Additionally, it is also anti microbial and while it won’t kill the bacteria it prevents the bacterial bio-film from forming. The biofilm is basically a covering that each bacterium uses to protect itself. As this cover is prevented from forming in ticks, it helps prevent the growth and spread of bacteria and curbs infections.
How can tick protein IAFGP be used for preventing infections in humans?
This research has excited scientists who have developed peptide structurally similar to tick protein (known only as P1 peptide) to inject in mice. The results seen from the experiment were that the mice were highly successful in resisting pathogens. Principle researcher of the study, Erol Fikrig, who happens to be the Chief of Infectious Diseases Department at Yale School of Medicine, said that the next step would be to synthesize tick protein into a class of antibacterial agents or antibiotics.
Can Lyme’s disease also be prevented using ticks?
This could, at first sound like a paradox. Ticks, especially deer ticks or the Lone Star tick, are responsible for causing Lyme’s disease in pets and humans. However, (and this is very similar to how we can prevent infections in humans using the tick protein as mentioned above), the key to solving Lyme’s could be based on the ticks themselves. A study, also conducted at Yale’s, has spurred the development of new vaccine to protect against Lyme’s disease. The fact that the Lyme bacterium does not affect the ticks could be due to the protein in their saliva. The bacterium gets coated with the saliva protein called SALP 15. So scientists isolated this protein and injected it into the mice that were found to resist the Lyme’s bacterium as well.
Both studies are proving beyond reasonable doubt that vector molecule used by the infecting parasite can itself be used to treat and prevent many insect borne diseases such as malaria, dengue etc and can also be used for preventing infections in humans.
Given this research on tick protein, we might as well start looking at ticks in a new light.