WASHINGTON - Horseshoe crabs are a common enough sight in coastal areas throughout the mid-Atlantic, but special properties in their blood have been used by pharmaceutical companies for years.
And now, some experts believe those properties could be useful in the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 – the pandemic that has sickened millions and killed thousands around the world.
Maryland Fisheries Biologist Steve Doctor explained that horseshoe crabs are particularly interesting to those devising medical treatments because of their history.
The horseshoe crab thrives in a very hostile environment on the sea floor, and the species has a highly developed immune system.
Doctor notes that scientists captured that immune system to test for negative bacteria.
He says anything that is used intravenously is tested by horseshoe blood first.
Some environmental groups are concerned about horseshoe crabs being over-harvested during the quest for a COVID-19 vaccine.
But Doctor points out that when they extract the blood, they try to make sure the creature is unharmed.
Moreover, horseshoe crabs are a renewable resource.
“We’ve had a program in place since 2003 where we regulate the number of crabs that are harvested, and also take into consideration the amount of mortality from the bleeding. It’s a renewable resource that we’ve been sustainably using for a time now,” Doctor said.
Some companies are looking toward alternatives to the horseshoe crab blood, but they have been unable to completely replicate its properties in a satisfactory way.