Horseshoe crab blood could be key to COVID-19 vaccine, expert says

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.