Carbon Monoxide as a Therapeutic Agent?


elephant sealWe are all aware of the fact that carbon monoxide is deadly.  We know the warnings of not running a car engine inside an enclosed garage because of carbon monoxide (CO) toxicity.  Now studies are finding ways that inappropriate doses of carbon monoxide may have clinical benefits.

Michael S. Tift, a Ph.D. candidate, studying Oceanography at the Scripps Institute is spending his time research elephant seals and other marine mammals.  He measured the carbon monoxide levels in the blood and breath of beluga whales, killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, a Hawaiian monk seal, and elephant seals.  Michael noted that elephant seals far exceed in levels of carbon monoxide compared to the other mammals.

What is astounding is that elephant seals have carbon monoxide levels just below what would be toxic, and these levels appear to protect it from injury when the seal has low levels of oxygen or has reduced blood flow to tissue.  These reductions in oxygen are common when the seal deep dives.

Michael presented his findings at the 2016 Experimental Biology Meeting that occurred in San Diego.  He spoke to Bioscience Technology and shared his thoughts, “Carbon monoxide has shown the most promise in alleviating inflammation, apoptosis (cell death) and cell proliferation (tumor growth) associated with many common diseases or injuries.”


Tift observed an amazing finding.  The most enlightening and fervent discovery is the elephant seal’s normal carbon monoxide levels are nearly identical to the therapeutic and protective levels that are being witnessed in clinical studies.  Michael continues his work with elephant seals looking at their cellular and genetic mechanisms on how they use carbon monoxide to yield protective effects.

Michael Tift then further detailed what he is determined to accomplish with his research, “Identifying the protective effects and mechanisms for maintaining naturally elevated carbon monoxide production will offer insight into the current treatment methods used with carbon monoxide in humans.”