Horseshoe Crab Season Underway Outside Ft. Myers, Florida

Chesapeake Limulabs fisherman with a special biomedical collection permit raises a horseshoe crab caught on a shoreline off the Gulf Coast of Florida

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA

March 25, 2018,  10:35 A.M.

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    n just a few short days, blood from this horseshoe crab and many others will be processed into a life-saving reagent used by pharmaceutical and medical device companies worldwide.  The crab will then be returned to the waters where it was caught to live out the rest of its natural life. 

A tube of freshly-harvested horseshoe crab blood

For a species that has survived nearly 450 million years and qualifies as a "living fossil," it is not surprising that horseshoe crabs have evolved to develop a unique defense mechanism to resist the spread of pathogenic infections. It is not the distinct blue shade of the blood of the Atlantic Limulus Polyphemus species that gives the crabs its unique properties. Rather, it is a concoction of enzymes naturally produced in the crab's blood cells called Limulus Ameboycyte Lysate (LAL). When an infection is detected in the crab's bloodstream, these enzymes react to transform the otherwise fluid blood into a gel-like matrix, preventing the spread of the infection through the body to vital organs. 

 

Scientists have extracted blood from horseshoe crabs and purified the LAL enzymes since the early 1980's.  The LAL is processed into test kits that are capable of detecting the presence of endotoxins and β-glucans (the molecular remains of disintegrated bacterial and fungal cell walls) at astonishingly-high levels of sensitivity. Considering that many biopharmaceutical drugs such as insulin and vaccines are manufactured by isolating the drug from genetically-engineered microbial organisms, endotoxins and β-glucans can often be left behind

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Since its founding in 2017, Chesapeake Limulabs based in Baltimore, MD has helped to increase global access to LAL products by establishing  global supply chains to deliver fresh raw product to companies and institutions across the globe so that they can research and develop their own cost-effective LAL assays. International access to horseshoe crab blood and affordable LAL products is limited considering that the Limulus species of horseshoe crab can only be found in select regions of the North American Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico, fishing is tightly regulated by local governments, and LAL manufacturing has been dominated by a select few companies for almost four decades.  

 

in the final product that is injected into the human bloodstream. Left unchecked, endotoxins and β-glucans can cause severe immune reactions and lead to further complications such as septic shock and death. Consequently, the FDA and other international regulatory bodies require LAL testing as a quality control mechanism for injectable drugs, invasive medical devices, and other medical equipment. 

A horseshoe crab wades through shallow waters near Fort Myers, Florida

Chesapeake Limulabs has been working to change that. It all starts here in Fort Myers with a single crab.  The crab will be transported to a nearby lab fitted with quality-controlled clean rooms where safe volumes of blood will  be extracted. Within 48 hours, the crab is released back into the waters where it was caught, and blood levels return to normal within a few weeks. Meanwhile, blood from that crab will be used by companies and institutions across the globe to validate the safety of hundreds of  millions of life-saving drugs, medical devices, and hospital equipment. 

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