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"Protective Seal" -- The Discovery Files

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Scientists have discovered that seal blood has the ability to minimize the effects of an inflammatory response during dangerous deep-sea dives. The inflammatory effects of a bacterial toxin -- lipopolysaccharide -- are 50 to 500 times greater in humans than seals, and tests on mice immune cells suggest that the special properties of seal blood could protect the lungs of human deep divers.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Going deep.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

A team of researchers led by Massachusetts General Hospital is on a different kind of seal hunt: (Sound effect: seal sound) one to uncover why seals -- a mammal -- can take a deep-sea dive and resurface with their lungs no worse for wear.

On the way down, a seal's delicate lung tissues get injured as they're crushed, then suffer blood and oxygen flooding when the seal heads back up. Not bad enough? The fragile tissues could suffer inflammation, usually a response by the body to heal damage. Yet the researchers found no evidence of lung damage in these deep divers.

How do seals protect their lungs from the potentially damaging inflammatory response? The scientists think they've uncovered the "secret sauce." They tested whether blood samples from two seal species offered any protection from the effects of inflammation triggered by a bacterial toxin. Result: The toxin triggered barely any inflammatory response in the seal blood. Do the same test in humans, and inflammation is 50 to 500 times greater!

And when the team added serum from seal blood to mouse immune cells, there was no inflammatory response.

The study suggests seal serum's protective compounds could help deep sea divers and offer promise in extending the survival of organs used in transplants.

Guess you could say we're learning a seal's deepest secrets. (Sound effect: seal sounds)

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