Mote Scientist Honored by International Shark Research Society

Shark researchers have placed Mote Marine Laboratory scientist Dr. Carl Luer in their hall of fame. The American Elasmobranch Society (AES) presented its Distinguished Fellow Award this month to Luer, who studies disease-fighting traits of sharks and rays to support the quest for better human medical care.

AES is the international-level, professional society for those who study sharks and their relatives the skates, rays, guitarfish and sawfish — a group of fishes called elasmobranchs. Members include college and university faculty and students, scientific staff at government agencies and museums, conservation biologists, biologists at public aquariums throughout the world and scientists at independent marine research institutions, such as Mote. The AES Distinguished Fellow Award is presented by AES representatives to one of their members through a nomination and review process that takes months. The award recognizes career accomplishments that have contributed significantly to the knowledge and understanding of sharks and their relatives.

Luer’s peers surprised him with the award on Aug. 3 during the 2014 Annual Meeting of AES in Chattanooga, Tenn.

“I’m not sure my feet have touched the ground yet,” said Luer, who was honored for his career in research and his service to AES — including four years as its president. “The past recipients of this award are huge names in shark research, and I’m honored to be considered among them.”
 
Including Luer, 11 people have received the award during the Society’s 30-year existence, including the famous “Shark Lady” who founded Mote, Dr. Eugenie Clark, along with two of her fellow history-makers at Mote: Dr. Perry Gilbert and Stewart Springer. (Scroll down for a full list of honorees since the first award in 1987.)

AES honorees have made leaps and bounds in biology, anatomy, sensory and behavior studies, ecology, fisheries dynamics and other key fields focused on sharks and their relatives.

Luer and his colleagues have taken shark research in surprising and promising new directions.

“While the AES honorees so far have focused mainly on whole animals, our main focus is biochemistry – in particular, we’re doing biomedical research to understand what sharks and rays can teach us about resisting disease,” said Luer, manager of the Marine Biomedical Research Program at Mote. “For a long time, people have reported that these animals rarely get cancer, and their wounds heal very quickly and without infection. Through years of study, we have demonstrated that these animals do have unusual healing abilities, and we have made tremendous progress toward understanding some of the reasons why.”

Luer and his Mote colleague Dr. Cathy Walsh have found that certain substances from shark immune systems inhibit the growth of several human cancer cell lines in the lab. Recently they have focused on understanding how these substances work at the molecular level, and they aim to isolate and describe the “active ingredients” to allow for more detailed testing in the search for new and improved cancer therapies. The project is currently funded by the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, a Florida High Tech Corridor Industry Seed Grant, and numerous matching grants.

Luer, Walsh and colleagues are also studying antimicrobial substances from the mucus on stingrays, looking for possible new sources of antibiotics that could fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They are also studying the wound-healing processes in stingrays to understand why these animals seem to heal quickly and resist infection.
These projects are funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
 
American Elasmobranch Society Distinguished Fellows over the years (* means Mote affiliation):
 
1987 – Samuel “Sonny” Gruber
1988 – Stewart Springer*
1989 – Perry Gilbert*
1991 – John “Jack” Casey
1992 – Thomas Thorson
1998 – Donald Nelson
1999 – Eugenie Clark*
2005 – Arthur Myrberg
2009 – Jack Musick
2010 – Gregor Cailliet
2014 – Carl Luer*
 
AES has supported the scientific study of sharks, skates and rays since 1983. Learn more at: http://elasmo.org/