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Dolphins could help heal humans

By Kieran Ball - 21 Jul 2011 15:16:0 GMT
Dolphins could help heal humans

Michael Zasloff, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Centre believes bottlenose dolphins may be the key to finding better ways to promote healing in humans.

In a letter published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the professor claims he witnessed large wounds healing without infection, scarring or any visible signs of pain in a number of dolphins. Similar wounds in humans, he noted, would be fatal:

"Much about the dolphin's healing process remains unreported and poorly documented. How does the dolphin not bleed to death after a shark bite? How is it that dolphins appear not to suffer significant pain? What prevents infection of a significant injury? And how can a deep gaping wound heal in such a way that the animal's body contour is restored?"

Working with marine biologists at the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort near Brisbane in Australia, Zasloff identified several mechanisms the dolphins could use to aid healing.

One theory proposed was that dolphins use their diving mechanism to cut off the blood supply to wounds preventing excessive blood loss. When dolphins dive to depths, blood is diverted from surface blood vessels. As result, the blood in the injured dolphin's wound can clot quickly.

Based on previous research undertaken on frogs and dogfish, the professor suggested that dolphins could also have anti-microbial compounds in their skin and blubber that fight infection. The dolphins seemed to be oblivious to pain too, continuing to eat and act normally after suffering even severe wounds, leading the professor to believe there might be some analgesic compounds at work.

When it came to healing, even large sections of missing tissue were replaced in weeks without significant scarring, possibly as a result of special regenerating stem cells within the tissue.

"The dolphin's healing is similar to how mammalian foetuses are able to heal in the womb," the professor said.

Since dolphins are structurally similar to humans, understanding the processes behind these processes could be the key to knowing more about healing in humans. Professor Zasloff believes further study could lead to new anti-bacterial and analgesic treatments for use in hospitals and medical centres.

Top Image Credit: Egypt, Hurghada, Red Sea, wild dolphins in open water © Angelo Giampiccolo