The world's toughest animal could one day help save your life

They can live without water, withstand radiation, survive being frozen, have been fired from a gas gun to test their panspermia potential, and are thought to have survived the Beresheet lunar probe's crash landing on the Moon. They are also anticipated to be one of the last forms of life on Earth when the sun starts to dim in about five billion years.

The fact that everyone's beloved tiny creature has yet another ability up its chubby sleeve—a ingenious chemistry specific to tardigrades—that can stabilize medications without refrigeration—comes as no surprise. It has enormous promise for providing those in need of life-saving care.

Anhydrobiosis, a vital survival strategy for tardigrades, has attracted the attention of researchers at the University of Wyoming. The research team reasoned that the capacity of the animal to enter reversible suspended animation in the face of excessive water loss from cells could provide the same secure dry storage for biologic drugs that would otherwise require the chilled environment.

Since biologics, such as vaccines, antibodies, stem cells, blood, and other blood products, are made from living things, they must be stored in a cool environment to prevent heat from degrading and killing the protein. Human blood-clotting (coagulation) factor VIII (FVIII), whose therapeutic uses include managing genetic illnesses like hemophilia A and those with severe bodily injuries and bleeding, is one that depends on this prohibitive cold-chain infrastructure.

The researchers discovered that it could provide FVIII with akin desiccation shields by leveraging a particular protein and sugar that the microscopic water bear creates in anhydrobiosis, meaning the biologic could be dehydrated and then rehydrated for use without losing its natural properties. Additionally, their research demonstrates that the FVIII in its treated state stayed stable for 10 weeks.

"Access to refrigerators and freezers, as well as enough electricity to run this infrastructure, can be in short supply in underdeveloped regions, during natural disasters, during space flight or on the battlefield," said Thomas Boothby, associate professor of molecular biology at UW. "Our work provides a proof of principle that we can stabilize factor VIII, and probably many other pharmaceuticals, in a stable, dry state at room or even elevated temperatures using proteins from tardigrades - and, therefore, provide critical live-saving medicine to everyone, everywhere."

The researchers improved a therapy based on the cytosolic abundant heat soluble (CAHS) proteins and the sugar trehalose using the Hypsibius dujardini species. The CAHS D protein, in particular, safeguards enzymes when they are dehydrated by creating gel-like strands that preserve the animal's cell structure. The strands withdraw when hydration is restored without putting the cells under duress.

The team was able to stabilize the FVIII by utilizing the biophysical characteristics of CAHS D and trehalose, which opened the way for the development of this transfer and storing method for a variety of biologics.

This research demonstrates that dry preservation techniques can effectively safeguard biologics, providing a practical, physically straightforward, and financially feasible method of stabilizing life-saving medications, according to Boothby. This will help global health initiatives in underdeveloped or off-the-grid regions of the world, as well as foster a safe and prosperous space economy that will depend on new technologies to end our reliance on refrigeration for the storage of food, medicine, and other biomolecules.