Sometimes sharks get a bad rap. Most humans want to stay far away from them. But researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory say sharks could potentially save millions of lives.
One of the country's leading scientists on the subjects say sharks' immune systems can block human cancer cells.
Dr. Carl Luer is one of America's foremost leaders in this subject. He said it's long been known that sharks rarely get sick.
"Sharks have a low incidence of disease in general and what's interesting is they have a low incidence of cancer," said Dr. Luer.
He says the fish have incredibly powerful immune systems.
"We've tried to give them cancer and we've not been able to do that," said Dr. Luer.
As part of a study, Luer removed cells from the immune system of a bonnethead shark and took it to a lab. He learned it secreted a compound that blocked the growth of human cancer cells.
Dr. Luer explained, "We want to be able to get to the point where we can understand what these compounds are so we can move into animal studies."
Luer wants to replicate these compounds in a lab, so future researchers won't have to rely on wild bonnethead sharks.
He says trials on humans could be years away, but this research holds a lot of promise.
"There's potential for improved therapies for certain types of cancer that respond well to our compounds, and there's also the potential to develop new antibiotics," explained Dr. Luer.
One of humanity's most feared creatures has the potential to help us.
Dr. Luer has been lauded internationally for his work. He was named a distinguished fellow at the American Elasmobranch Society, a high honor in his field.
In the past 30 years, only 11 people have been given this distinction.
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