It has been a while since my last blog and I have been thinking what my few readers would find interesting. I think we all love superhero stories, but mine just so happen to be real. My favorite superheroes have saved countless lives but generally are not thought of as such. Choosing just two was very challenging. Out of the list I bring forth my selections; the research pig and the horseshoe crab.
Yes, that is right. A stereotypically dirty animal that certain religious groups avoid and an invertebrate that looks like a World War II helmet!
Let’s start with the pig. Millions of us owe our lives to these stinky beasts! Pigs have been used for research for hundreds of years. Pig comparative anatomy and portions of their genetic makeup make them excellent models for human translation. Medical students and boarded human surgeons practice their skills on pigs to this day. Heck, some of us even have pig parts (usually heart valves) purposefully placed in our own bodies. If you are not familiar with the RECOVER initiative on veterinary CPR, I suggest looking it up. Pay attention to the overwhelming amount of sources cited for CPR techniques and studies done with pigs. In more recent years pigs have made huge waves with regenerative medicine, as they are excellent translatable models for xenograft and allograft procedures. Did you know some researchers even harvest cell matrix from pig bladders to regrow human body parts, like a salamander or lizard can regenerate a limb?!?! Studies are still refining pig to human organ transplant, which will significantly cut costs and ethical concerns with using human derived sources.
My second favorite animal super hero is the horseshoe crab. This prehistoric creature has been helping keep us alive for over 50 years, unbeknownst to most of the population. A horseshoe crab’s secret power is in its blood. Did I mention their blood isn’t red? This copper based blood (instead of iron) gives it a blue hue. The supremacy of horseshoe crab blood is that it has an extremely sensitive protein that basically clumps around impurities in the body, like bacteria or toxins. The horseshoe crab lacks an immune system as we know it, but instead has this early form of phagocytosis.
Nearly every antibiotic, IV medication or medical device goes through an FDA mandated process called a limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) contamination test. This is the derivative isolated from the horseshoe crab blood that does the impurity seeking and destroying. Every year around 600,000 horseshoe crabs are collected from shallow waters around the US, with a permit, to collect around 1/3 of their precious blood, which goes for around $60k a gallon. Don’t worry! This process is heavily regulated and the horseshoe crab survives and is returned to the wild. Many companies are in the process of coming up with ways to alleviate the burden of our needs from the invertebrate. Sadly this superhero is being poached by the fishing and crabbing industry for bait.
I hope to have enlightened some of you on the importance animals play on our own health as well as that of our pets. It isn’t without the ultimate sacrifice some animals make that we can continue to overcome disease and make strides in research. So the next time you eat bacon, honor that pig. The next time you get a vaccine or give a patient IV medication, honor that horseshoe crab. Peace out!