Tick spit is an impressive feat of nature and has huge potential for medicine thanks to its naturally occurring proteins.
For the first time ever, scientists have made the anti-inflammatory evasin proteins found in tick saliva, which offers a promising step forward in therapeutic treatments.
Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on Wednesday.
We usually don't notice ticks burrowed under our skin for days
Evasins, the proteins found in ticks, suppress another class of proteins when in the human blood. This is the main reason why when we're bitten by a tick, we usually don't notice it for a few days. Scientists have been looking to see how they can use this type of protein in medicine.
"Ticks have a terrible reputation – they are not very nice to look at, need to suck blood to survive and are responsible for transmitting bacteria that cause severe diseases, such as Lyme disease in humans," said Professor Richard Payne in the School of Chemistry.
"However, to a medicinal chemist, ticks are amazing creatures."
When ticks burrow themselves under your skin, they release an anti-inflammatory that blocks chemokines, — that act as transmitters to warn white blood cells to come and help attack a potential disease — which means they go undetected for a short while.
The team at the University of Sydney discovered another important part of the puzzle, that sulfate molecules attached themselves to evasins, which give the proteins an extra kick.
Lead author of the study, Charlotte Franck, said "Armed with this knowledge, evasins could potentially be repurposed to suppress chemokine-driven inflammation in human disease."
Franck continued "We’ve known about evasins in tick spit for more than a decade, but my discovery has shown that the proteins are modified with sulfate groups. It is these modified forms of the protein that provide a massive enhancement in biological activity."
It's a fantastic double discovery, and as Professor Payne said "It is entirely possible that our sulfated tick proteins, or modified variants of them, could find wide application for a number of inflammatory diseases in the future."