Lampreys: the future of therapeutics

Lampreys are one of the oldest surviving species of eel-like jawless fish. They populate both rivers and coastal sea waters in temperate regions around the world.

These strange-looking fish are rendered particularly uncanny by their boneless, tooth-lined mouth. They are also parasitic, feeding on the blood of other fish.

New research suggests that these aquatic-dwellers may provide an adaptable vehicle for drugs that treat the biological effects of conditions or health events affecting the brain.

A recent study, conducted by a team of scientists from University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin, has looked at a type of molecule from the immune system of lampreys, called "variable lymphocyte receptors" (VLRs).

The researchers explain that what makes VLRs interesting is their ability to target the extracellular matrix (ECM), a network of macromolecules that provide structure to the cells they surround.

This network makes up a large part of the central nervous system, so the research team believes that VLRs can help carry drugs to the brain, boosting the effectiveness of treatments for brain cancer, brain trauma, or stroke.