Sharks' Amazing Ability to Heal From Wounds Might Help Humans

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 8, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- Forget "Jaws": The remarkable wound-healing power of shark skin could end up helping humans, new research claims.

Shark skin is coated with a special film of mucus that more closely resembles mucus generated by people than that generated by other types of fish, noted researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm.

They conducted their investigation at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Wood's Hole, Mass., and reported their findings recently in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

It's long been known that sharks have an unusual ability to quickly heal and recover from wounds, explained researchers Jakob Wikström, an associate professor of dermatology and principal investigator at Karolinska, and his colleague, senior study author Etty Bachar-Wikström.

However, "much more is known about fish biology than shark biology, for obvious reasons,” Wikström explained in an MBL news release. “Fish are easier to handle, and there's a bigger commercial interest in them.”

Sharks are cartilaginous and, along with skates, make up just 1% of fish species, while bony fishes comprise the other 99%.

“Our aim in this paper was to characterize shark skin at the molecular level, which hasn't been done in depth,” Bachar-Wikström said.

How do sharks heal so quickly from wounds? To try to find out, the researchers focused on the thin layer of mucus that overlies a shark's rough-textured skin.

They found its chemical composition to be very different than that of the mucus secreted by bony fishes -- less acidic, with an almost neutral pH, and actually more akin to mucus from mammals, including that of humans.

“The molecular biology of sharks is unique,” Wikström said. “They're not just another fish swimming around. They have a unique biology, and there are probably lots of human biomedical applications that one could derive from that. For example, when it comes to mucin [a primary component of the mucus], one can imagine different wound care topical treatments that could be developed from that.”

Wikström noted that scientists have already created wound-healing treatments based on research in codfish, so "it's possible that one could make something similar from sharks.”

Prior shark research conducted at other centers has already led to the creation of a new antibiotic, the researchers noted, and provided some key insights into the underpinnings of cystic fibrosis.

According to Wikström, the latest findings confirm that "animals that are far away [from us] evolutionarily can still give us very important information that is relevant for humans."

More information:

There's more on shark biology at the Shark Trust.

SOURCE: Marine Biological Laboratory, news release, Nov. 2, 2023

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