The ability of dolphins to curb infections and quickly heal their injuries may offer new clues for the treatment of human wounds, scientists say.
"Much about the dolphin's healing process remains unreported and poorly documented," wrote Michael Zasloff, adjunct professor at Georgetown University Medical Center who interviewed dolphin handlers and marine biologists to find answers about the miraculous self-healing power of the species.
In his letter published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, Zasloff recounts several documentations about how quick dolphins manage to heal the wounds caused by severe shark bites, adding that some of these wounds which are larger than a basketball are cured in weeks without causing notable pain or infection or leaving a significant scar.
"If I saw this in a human being, I wouldn't believe it," Zasloff added. "It should awe us. You have an animal that has evolved in the ocean without hands or legs, which swims faster than we can, has intelligence that perhaps equals our social and emotional complexity, and its healing is almost alien compared to what we are capable of."
The investigator scientist concluded that dolphins' resistance to infection may be linked to their blubber that contains natural organohalogen compounds, which function like antibiotics and have antimicrobial properties.
"It's most likely that the dolphin stores its own antimicrobial compound and releases it when an injury occurs," said Zasloff, who previously identified antimicrobial compounds in frog skin and dogfish sharks.
"The repair of a gaping wound to an appearance that is near normal requires the ability of the injured animal to knit newly formed tissues with the existing fabric of adipocytes [fat cells], collagen and elastic fibers," Zasloff noted. "The dolphin's healing is similar to how mammalian fetuses are able to heal in the womb."
In addition, dolphin's unique diving mechanism that might stem in their blood flow enhance healing by diverting blood from the extremities while plunging below the sea, he suggested. The reflex could be triggered after an injury to prevent excessive blood loss.
"Unfortunately, the healing process of dolphins has been poorly studied, but hopefully we'll soon know more, and be able to apply some of what we learn to helping humans,” he expressed.
"My hope is this work will stimulate research that will benefit humans," said Zasloff. "I feel reasonably certain that within this animal's healing wounds we will find novel antimicrobial agents as well as potent analgesic compounds."