A Whole New Way to Use Dolphins: Their Blubber May Contain “Natural Morphine”

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With all the problems humans have caused whales and dolphins – capture, killing, ship noise, sonar, pollution – the latest idea of how to use them is perhaps the most chilling:  a medical doctor theorizes that dolphin tissue may provide miraculous antibiotic and pain killing properties. Since he ‘doesn’t have access to dolphins’ (nor is he a marine mammal biologist), he cobbled together information from various sources and published his idea without doing the laborious research to substantiate it.  Whether his idea is correct or not, it certainly will inspire research – likely financed by pharmaceutical companies – to the detriment of whales and dolphins.

From BreakThrough Digest Medical News : “A dolphin’s ability to heal quickly from a shark bite with apparent indifference to pain, resistance to infection, hemorrhage protection, and near-restoration of normal body contour might provide insights for the care of human injuries, says Michael Zasloff, M.D., Ph.D., a Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) scientist.”

"Tuffy", the Sea Lab dolphin, was so named due to his shark bite scars.

Following the publication of the idea presented by Zasloff, National Public Radio interviewed him and asked:

Q: Why are dolphins so good at healing?
Dolphin blubber makes compounds like organohalogens that act as natural antibiotics and keep the tissue from getting infected.

The next mystery is the recovery of contour [of the body]. When the animal restores its wound, it regenerates the complex structure of blubber. It doesn’t create a scar; it produces a sort of patch that ultimately is woven back into the surrounding tissue.
What is exciting is that there must be great numbers of stem cells [involved], and by looking at these stem cells, we would probably be able to identify what they are and possibly even the hormones or proteins that are involved in their expansion. And if we looked for comparable cells in man, these might be the very cells that we would want to use to promote healing of complex wounds in us.
Q: So what are the next steps for research?
Identification of the antimicrobial agents, which have to be in those tissues. All you’d have to do is take some dolphin blubber, extract it, and start looking for stuff that would kill bacteria.
And with the pain issue, it’s the same thing. You would take the blubber or the regenerating tissue, you’d isolate stuff—purified components or crude—and you’d administer it to mice. And lo and behold, you may find, in the regenerating tissue or the decomposing blubber, the long-sought natural morphine that we’ve been looking for.
How long before we see dolphin-inspired therapies?
I wish I could work on this, but I don’t have access to dolphins. So I’m just putting this out there for other researchers to see. Once you appreciate that this is kind of a miracle, it isn’t terribly hard to come up with ideas [for how to do the research].
The hardest part is to realize that there’s a miracle in your midst.

Actually, the hardest part is to realize that there’s a miracle in your midst, and to leave it alone.  I only hope that scientists are able to extract the answers from non-living tissue, and to replicate what they find in the laboratory.

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