While frogs and dogfish have previously helped scientists to understand how to take care of human injuries, researchers have now found that a dolphin's healing ability can provide even more of an insight.

Michael Zasloff, M.D., Ph.D., a Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) scientist, interviewed dolphin handlers from around the world and discovered dolphins' "remarkable" and "mysterious" ability to heal, a skill that he says was previously poorly documented.

"How does the dolphin not bleed to death after a shark bite? How is it that dolphins appear not to suffer significant pain? What prevents infection of a significant injury? And how can a deep, gaping wound heal in such a way that the animal's body contour is restored?" Zasloff asked as part of his research. "Comparable injuries in humans would be fatal."

As part of his research he proposed that the same diving mechanism (diving reflex) that diverts blood from the periphery of the body during a dolphin's deep plunge down in water depths also could be triggered after an injury. He also looked into the dolphin's apparent indifference to pain threshold, the prevention of infection and dolphin wounds' ability to heal in a way that restores its body contour. As a conclusion, he said that the dolphin's healing ability is less like human healing and more like regeneration.

Zasloff demonstrated how quickly dolphins heal from severe shark injuries by documenting the case histories of two shark-bitten dolphins at the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort in Moreton Island, Australia. Trevor Hassard, director of Tangalooma said after reading Zasloff's report that "perhaps it will bring the dolphin's remarkable healing capacities to the attention of the medical research community."

"My hope is this work will stimulate research that will benefit humans," says Zasloff. "I feel reasonably certain that within this animal's healing wounds we will find novel antimicrobial agents as well as potent analgesic compounds."

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