Sharks May Be Key To Solving Human Diseases

BOSTON (CBS) – In the search for answers to treating deadly diseases, researchers are turning to the ocean — more specifically turning to sharks. Some scientists are convinced there is a link between the predator and our own health.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, a researcher at the University of Miami, says sharks could be the key to unlocking clues about devastating diseases we face on land.

“Alzheimers, dementia, ALS, Parkinson’s. Scary stuff,” he said.

WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes reports

Dr. Hammerschlag catches and releases sharks off the coast of Florida. He quickly examines them and electronically tags the creatures so they can be tracked up and down the east coast.

His partner back in the lab is world renowned expert on the human brain, Dr. Debra Mash.

“The shark is giving us a mirror on what is coming into our diet. Showing us what is out there in our environment that can damage our bodies,” Mash says.

The researchers have found a dangerous neurotoxin known as BMAA in the shark fins.

“We were really surprised on our level of detection of this toxin BMAA. And we found it in all but three samples that we tested,” said Dr. Mash.

The worry? If more sharks are exposed to the toxin, could humans also be at an increased risk? The toxin has been shown to kill brain cells. And it has turned up, repeatedly, in Mash’s studies of the human brain. Particularly, in the brains of victims of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“We are detecting BMAA in the brains of the patients that have donated them for research. That is why we are seeing a linkage with Alzheimer’s and with Lou Gehrig’s disease,” said Dr. Mash.

This is only the first chapter of a medical mission looking to unearth clues that link humans and a fear predator. Dr. Mash says the shark “may give us a fundamental clue that allows us to make a great breakthrough.”

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