Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Gee whiz moments
Spontaneous gut feelings may be the stuff of which great discoveries are made. Consider Archimedes running naked from his bath after discovering the principle of buoyancy. Here's a real-life, up-to-date, Eureka moment from the Center for Marine Science (CMS) at the University of North Carolina.
Marine biologists already knew when there's a red tide in the morning, asthmatics take warning. The microorganism responsible for red tides produces a powerful toxin that constricts airways. If an onshore breeze blows this noxious spray inland, susceptible individuals may experience an asthmatic attack. But these little red buggers, aka Karenia brevis, also make a substance dubbed brevenal that counteracts their pulmonary poisons and reverses bronchial spasm.
CMS investigator Andrea Bourdelais discovered this potentially useful substance while dosing guppies in the lab with K. brevis products. Those guppies that survived the first red blast seemed oddly immune to another dose of red tide toxins. Per Dr. Bourdelais:
I had a spontaneous gut feeling--a gee-whiz moment--that the first material was an antidote to the second one.
Not only does brevenal block red tide brevetoxins, the substance also seems to promote mucous clearance. Airway blockage and sticky mucous are two lethal characteristics of cystic fibrosis, and brevenal seems to counteract these tendencies more potently than amiloride, a drug currently used to alleviate CF symptoms.
Will brevenal effectively work in humans born with this genetic disease? While trials on asthmatic sheep suggest this may be the case, scientists plan to first test brevenal on manatees. This endangered Florida sea mammal is also rendered breathless by red tides. Veterinarians at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida have the FDA green light to break out the brevenal for manatees affected by the next red tide.