It sounds horrible to think of a vampire bat as good medicine, but the theory behind that is the motivator for a new stroke treatment. Of the estimated 700,000 Americans who have strokes each year, less than 5% get to the hospital on time to receive TPA, the only clot-busting drug available to treat stroke victims. The problem there is you have just a three hour window for the drug to prevent stroke damage. But a new drug, still in development, could open that window to that of nine hours instead. This is where the bats come in.
"It turns out, in the saliva of the vampire bat is this protein that actually breaks down clots ensuring that the bat actually has a continuous flow of blood until it's satisfied with its meal," says Dr. Neil Shusterman, Forest Laboratories Inc.
That coagulant could provide a lot more time for patients before stroke damage. The drug is called Desmoteplase, and although it got off to a shaky start with some serious side effects, the company says it has adjusted the dosage. Researchers at Mt. Sinai agree that it appears the safety issues are solved. Since the drug maker says it no longer needs real bats to gather the necessary protein, they can make that in a lab now.