Vampire bat saliva: a stroke-fighting tool?

By • Published: October 31st, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Witches, goblins and vampires, Halloween’s typical cast of characters, aren’t exactly a welcoming bunch. Most people think they’re kind of creepy, if not downright dangerous. But they’re just imaginary, right? There’s no need to worry about a real vampire running around nights, sucking people’s blood. Or is there?

Well … not exactly. But there is the vampire bat, a very real, winged mammal that feeds on the blood of its prey … including humans.

Researchers at the Ohio State University are investigating a possible way to use vampire bat saliva to help, not harm, people. A component of the saliva known as desmoteplase [des moe te′ plase] … DSPA, for short … thins blood in animals and people the bats bite. This enables the creepy creatures to suck as much blood from their unlucky hosts as possible.

It also might help people who’ve suffered a stroke by dissolving blood clots, restoring blood flow to affected parts of the brain and limiting brain damage caused by lack of oxygen.

Scientists who’ve studied DSPA suggest it might not cause further brain damage, as some other stroke medicines can do. Initial tests of a medicine made from the substance have shown it to be safe and OSU researchers are now working to test the drug’s effectiveness.

If they succeed, stroke victims might have a longer window of opportunity to receive initial care. Typically, a person who suffers a stroke has three hours to receive treatments. After that, the patient likely has sustained extensive, irreversible brain damage. Existing medicines that break up clots can’t do much good then, and doctors consider the risks to patients taking them to outweigh the chance that they would help.

But DSPA may be useful up to nine hours after a stroke, allowing more people to get the help they need. Now that would be a sweet solution to a truly ghoulish medical problem.