Tick saliva could be the key to fighting a dangerous heart condition

Tick saliva could be the key to fighting a dangerous heart condition
A picture taken at the French National Institute of Agricultural Research in July 2016 shows a tick. BERTRAND GUAY/Getty Images
A picture taken at the French National Institute of Agricultural Research in July 2016 shows a tick. BERTRAND GUAY/Getty Images

Scientists at Britain's Oxford University may have found the key to treating heart inflammation, or myocarditis, a potentially-fatal condition that can lead to stroke or heart attacks, the BBC reported on Tuesday. And that newly discovered treatment, scientists say, is tick saliva.

What makes ticks so persistent could also make them useful in treating inflammation of the heart, researchers say. Ticks are able to latch on to animals and people and feed off of them for days without causing pain or inflammation, the BBC reported.

According to the researchers, this is because of proteins in tick saliva that prevent inflammation — and now they want to harness those proteins to fight heart inflammation.

Ticks placed in a container to be analyzed at a hospital in Majadahonda, near Madrid, Spain, in March 2017.
Ticks placed in a container to be analyzed at a hospital in Majadahonda, near Madrid, Spain, in March 2017. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

In a statement released by lead author Shoumo Bhattacharya, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at Oxford, called myocarditis is "a devastating disease, for which there are currently very few treatments."

"With this latest research, we hope to be able to take inspiration from the tick’s anti-inflammatory strategy and design a life-saving therapy for this dangerous heart condition," Bhattacharya said.

There are around 1,500 to 3,000 proteins in tick saliva, depending on the species. Researchers hope that the proteins they've been able to identify as having anti-inflammatory properties could eventually be used to treat not only myocarditis, but a host of other diseases in which inflammation is a factor, like arthritis.

In the statement from Oxford, Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the new research, said that while ticks "may not be pretty ... these little creatures could hold the secret to better treatments for a whole range of diseases. There’s a long way to go, but tick saliva looks like an exciting, albeit unconventional, area of research."