Scientists are looking to crab blood as a new life-saving tool.
Times have changed since the 1940s. During World War II, getting treatment for wounds was just as terrifying as getting wounded. But CNN says hospitals and laboratories around the world have a new secret weapon – horseshoe crabs.
The horseshoe crab’s blood is bright blue, and it is an amazing resource in hospitals; it has prevented in-hospital poisoning and has proven to be a helpful indicator of disease in the human body.
According to CNN,
When faced with toxins produced by bacteria, amebocyte cells in the blood — colored blue by their copper-based molecules — identify and congeal around the invading matter, trapping the threat inside a gel-like seal that prevents it from spreading.
Thanks to technology, scientists have found a way to use this to improve surgery and other medical procedures.
It only takes about 45 minutes of exposure to the crab’s blood to reveal endotoxins from bacteria. The crab’s blood can help detect toxins the equivalent size of a grain of salt in a swimming pool. That’s tiny. And scientists are working hard to get the blood to detect even smaller pieces of matter.
The same CNN post says,
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that intravenous drugs and any medical equipment coming in contact with the body must first pass through the crab’s blood, from needles to surgical implants including pacemakers.
This is a huge deal. Thousands of people are able to survive procedures that might have otherwise killed them fifty years ago.
The blood is incredibly expensive. Because approximately 600,000 crabs are captured per year in the spring, about 30% of their blood is used in the United States and Asia in specialized research facilities. The blood is worth $60,000 per gallon, and has a net worth of $50 million a year.
Luckily, people at Charles River Laboratories have found a way to reduce the amount of blood needed for detection to 5% of a solution. It is very important that this number stays low, so that the blood can be dispersed around the world, even to space, where it can be used to perform biological studies concerned with human presence in space.
Of course, it can be used to detect fungal infections and other toxins here on Earth as well. Because the blood is so useful, the population of crabs is actually declining in places like Delaware Bay. On top of that, 10-30% of crabs die in the harvesting process.
There are ongoing efforts to conserve the blood and find ways to make harvesting more efficient. But perhaps the use of horseshoe crab blood is temporary. It is believed that eventually there will need to be an alternative method for toxin detection other than crab blood in order to maintain the crab population.
Check out these related posts
- Under-Ice Ice Fishing in Finland Turns the World Upside Down [VIDEO]
- How To Properly Tickle a Lobster [VIDEO]