Researcher Charlotte Franck
Original Published Date: 
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Full article issued by The University of Sydney.

Researchers at the new ARC Centre of Excellence for Innovations in Peptide and Protein Science (CIPPS) have synthetically produced anti-inflammatory proteins in tick saliva for the first time, a promising step towards new therapeutic treatments.

Evasins, as the proteins are known, act in human blood to suppress a class of transmitter proteins, which is why when bitten, we often don’t notice a tick has burrowed into our skin. Scientists now want to see how these proteins can be used for treating human diseases, including potential application for lung inflammation in respiratory illness, such as COVID-19.

“Ticks have a terrible reputation – they are not very nice to look at, need to suck blood to survive and are responsible for transmitting bacteria that cause severe diseases, such as Lyme disease in humans,” says Professor Richard Payne, an ARC Future Fellowship recipient and Deputy Director at CIPPS.

“However, to a medicinal chemist, ticks are amazing creatures.”

Ticks have evolved an impressive arsenal of biologically-active salivary proteins they pump into the bite sites on their hosts. Among these are various pain-killing agents and some of the best blood-thinning molecules known.

“In order to avoid detection, ticks also produce small protein molecules that suppress the inflammatory response. These proteins are called the 'evasins' because they help the tick evade immune detection. This means they can feed for days without the host knowing they are attached,” Professor Payne said.

In the past, evasins have proven difficult to isolate, so the researchers, led by PhD candidate Charlotte Franck, built the proteins from scratch in a feat of synthetic chemistry, something that no one else had ever been able to do.

“We are now trying to engineer these sulfated evasin molecules to make them even more effective and more stable in blood,” says Ms Franck. “We can then start to explore how effective they could be for a range of inflammatory conditions in the clinic.”

Photo credit: 

Lead author Charlotte Franck is a PhD candidate in the School of Chemistry. Credit: The University of Sydney.