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Scientists find a protein in bats that can slow aging and fight most diseases

Could the key to slowing human aging and fighting off ailments like Covid, heart disease, and arthritis be hiding in the wings of bats? A recent study suggests it just might be.

Bats, remarkable creatures that live for around 20 years on average, appear to be unscathed by pathogens that prove deadly to humans, such as Ebola and Covid. 

This intriguing fact has prompted scientists to take a closer look at these animals, hoping to uncover the secret behind their resistance to sickness, and see if it can be replicated in humans.

The study, conducted by researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, led to the discovery of a protein that forms the backbone of bats’ extraordinary immune defense. 

The secrets behind “bat ASC2”

The protein, named bat ASC2, showed remarkable promise in genetically engineered mice. The research team is optimistic that it may one day be harnessed to save millions of human lives.

Bat ASC2 is a modified version of a protein that halts the inflammatory response in bats, providing them with their unique resistance to viruses. In a statement, the research team explained, “Our results demonstrate an important mechanism by which bats limit excessive virus-induced and stress-related inflammation with implications for their long lifespan.”

The scientists tested this protein’s effectiveness by genetically modifying mice to carry the ASC2 protein. The results were astonishing. The mice demonstrated the same defensive properties against inflammation as the bats, as reported in the study published in the journal Cell.

Further investigation into why bats excel at fending off viruses revealed more about the ASC2 protein. When tested on human cells, these cells became more resistant to disease, showing the ‘therapeutic potential’ of bat ASC2.

How the protein works

The protein works by dampening inflammasomes – the part of the immune system that drives inflammatory responses when infection strikes.

Dr. Linfa Wang, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School, spoke to The Telegraph about the potential of bat ASC2 in contributing to human longevity and reducing mortality from viruses. 

He cautioned: “It may not be the only factor, as biology is never as simple as one molecule or one pathway. But the overall dampening of inflammation most likely plays a role in health aging in bats.”

What the discovery means for human health

Dr. Wang further explained that this discovery could lead to the development of new medicines that mimic ASC2, offering a potential treatment for various viruses that trigger an inflammatory response in humans. 

“We have filed patents based on this work and are exploring commercial partnerships for drug discovery,” said Dr. Wang. “We are hoping to develop a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs for inflammasome-driven human diseases.”

Interestingly, mice carrying the ASC2 adaptation saw their death rate from a deadly flu virus drop dramatically from 100 percent to 50 percent. In addition, the ASC2 protein ‘substantially inhibited’ the Zika virus in these genetically engineered mice.

Both humans and bats carry the ASC2 protein, but the researchers speculate that it may have evolved to be stronger in bats due to the immense physiological stress that comes with flight. 

Bats, the only mammals capable of powered flight, may have developed a means to suppress their inflammatory immune response as a survival mechanism. This theory suggests the metabolically costly flight could be a key driver for this adaptation.

The research findings have sparked interest among experts worldwide. Professor Gilda Tachedjian, head of Life Sciences at the Burnet Institute in Australia, acknowledged the significance of the study. She told The Telegraph: “The researchers have proved the concept that bat ASC2 protein can target the part of the immune system responsible for inflammatory responses, and therefore reducing inflammation in cells in a petri dish and in mice.”

However, she tempered her praise with caution, adding, “While the findings of this study are intriguing, more work is needed to translate these findings into new therapies that can be used in people to reduce mortality from viruses or increase longevity.”

Next steps for the researchers

Indeed, the road from promising laboratory findings to effective human therapies can be long and arduous. The discovery of bat ASC2’s potential is just the beginning. To fully understand how this protein works and to harness its power for human health, extensive further research is necessary.

The current study does, however, underscore the incredible potential that nature holds for medical breakthroughs. As scientists continue to investigate bats’ remarkable resilience to viruses, they are gaining insights that could transform our approach to human health and longevity.

In the fight against diseases like Covid and conditions such as heart disease and arthritis, bats could prove to be an unexpected ally. Their unique protein could provide a template for new anti-inflammatory drugs that could not only save lives but also extend them.

The quest for longevity and disease resistance has been a long-standing challenge for humanity. Now, it appears that the solution may be soaring in the night sky, in the form of these winged mammals. As we continue to study and learn from them, bats may just hold the key to unlocking a new frontier in human health and medicine.

As we wait for the next steps of this exciting research, it’s clear that the humble bat, a creature that has inspired myth and legend for centuries, may soon find itself at the center of a scientific revolution. The study of bat ASC2 has the potential to reshape our understanding of disease, immunity, and the very nature of aging. And who knows? The secret to a longer, healthier life may just be a bat’s flight away.


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