Deadly venom from spiders and snakes can cure you

TUCSON, Ariz. – In a small room in a building at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the invertebrate keeper, Emma Califf, lifts up a rock in a plastic box. “This is one of our desert furs,” she said, revealing a three-inch-long scorpion, its tail curled up on its back. “The largest scorpion in North America.”

This captive feather, along with an inch-long colony of bark scorpions in another box, and two dozen rattlesnakes of various species and subspecies in the corridors, are kept here for the sake of the king. nations: their venom.

Attempts to isolate a giant swarm of proteins in the venom — a field known as venoms — has flourished in recent years, and the growing catalog of compounds has led to a number of drug discoveries. As the components of these natural toxins continue to be examined using evolving technologies, the number of promising molecules is also increasing.

Leslie V. Boyer, professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Arizona, said: “A century ago, we thought venom had three or four components, and now we know of only one type of venom. there could be thousands”. “Things are accelerating because a handful of very good labs have pumped out information that everyone else can now use to discover.”

She added, “There’s a pharmacopoeia waiting to be discovered.”

It’s a striking case of modern alchemy: The most highly evolved natural poisons on the planet are creating some potent potions with much more potential.

One of the most promising venom-derived drugs to date comes from Australia’s deadly funnel-web spider Fraser Island, prevent cell death after a heart attack.

Blood flow to the heart is reduced after a heart attack, which makes the cell environment more acidic and leads to cell death. The drug, a protein called Hi1A, is expected to enter clinical trials next year. In the laboratory, it was tested on beating cells of the human heart. Nathan Palpant, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia who helped create the discovery.

If proven in trials, it could be used by healthcare workers in an emergency and could prevent damage from occurring after a heart attack and could improve the outcome of a heart transplant by How to keep a donor’s heart healthy for longer.

“It looks like it would be a heart attack drug,” said Bryan Fry, an associate professor of toxicology at the University of Queensland, who was familiar with the study but was not involved in the study. “And that’s from one of the most vilified creatures” in Australia.

The techniques used to treat venom compounds have become so powerful that they are creating new opportunities. “Today we can do tests with just a few micrograms of venom that 10 or 15 years ago would have required hundreds of micrograms,” Dr. Fry said. “What this has done is open up all the other venomous strains out there that produce small amounts of matter.”

There is a huge natural library to sort through. Hundreds of thousands of reptiles, insects, spiders, snails and jellyfish, among others, have mastered the art of chemical warfare with venom. Furthermore, the composition of the venom varies between animals. There is one type of terrorist poison: Venoms vary in quantity, potency and ratio and types of toxins, according to habitat and diet, and even according to temperature changes due to variation climate.

Venom is made from a complex mixture of poisons, including proteins with distinct properties. They are deadly because evolution has honed their effectiveness for so long – about 54 million years for snakes and 600 million for jellyfish.

Venom was the product of a biological arms race of the time; As the venom becomes more deadly, the victim becomes more resistant, thus making the venom even more deadly. Humans are included in that movement. “We are made of proteins and our proteins have very little of the complex configurations that make us human,” said Dr. Boyer, founder of the Venom Institute of Chemistry, Pharmacology and Emergency Response. know. “And those little profiles are the target of the venom.”

The specific cellular proteins that venom molecules have evolved to target with precise precision are what make drugs derived from them – using the same pathways – so effective . However, some proteins have inherent problems that can make new drugs from them not work.

It is not usually necessary to collect venom to make these potions. Once they are identified, they can be aggregated.

There are three main effects from the venom. The neurotoxin attacks the nervous system, paralyzing the victim. Hemotoxins target the blood and local tissue toxins attack the area around the site of exposure to the poison.

Many drugs derived from venom are marketed. Captopril, the first drug, was created in the 1970s from the venom of the Brazilian viper jararaca to treat high blood pressure. It was commercially successful. Another drug, exenatide, is derived from the venom of the Gila monster and is prescribed for Type 2 diabetes. Draculin is an anticoagulant from the venom of vampire bats and is used to treat stroke and heart attack.

The venom of the Israeli death scorpion is the source of a compound in clinical trials to detect and illuminate tumors in the breast and colon.

Several proteins have been evaluated as potential candidates for new drugs, but they have to go through lengthy production and clinical trials, which can take years and cost millions of dollars. In March, researchers at the University of Utah announced that they had discovered a fast-acting molecules in cones. Cone snails shoot their venom at the fish, causing the victim’s insulin levels to drop so rapidly that it kills them. It holds promise as a diabetes drug. Bee venom seems to work for a variety of diseases and has recently been discovered kill aggressive breast cancer cells.

In Brazil, researchers looked at the venom of the Brazilian wandering spider as a possible source of a new drug for erectile dysfunction – because of what happens to human victims when they are bitten. . Dr Fry said: “One feature of their hostility is that the males get incredibly painful and long-lasting erections. “Of course, they have to separate it from the lethal element and find a way back.”

Some scientists have long suspected that important secrets are locked in the venom. Scientific interest first arose in the 17th century. In the mid-18th century, Italian physician and general practitioner Felice Fontana supplemented the body of knowledge with her treatises, and in 1860 , the first study of venom components was conducted by S. Weir Mitchell in Philadelphia.

The medicinal uses of venom have been around for a long time, often without scientific backing. Venom dipped needles are a traditional form of acupuncture. Bee sting therapy, in which a swarm of bees is placed on the skin, is used by a number of natural healers. Rock artist Steve Ludwin claims to have regularly injected him with diluted venom, believing it to be a tonic to help build his immune system and boost his energy.

The demand for venom is increasing. Califf of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum said she had to travel to the desert to find more bark scorpions, which she hunts at night with a black light because they glow in the dark. Dr Boyer said Arizona is a “venom hub”, with more venomous creatures than any other US state, making it well suited for this type of production.

The scorpion’s venom is harvested by applying a tiny electrical current to the spiders, causing them to secrete a tiny drop of amber liquid at the tip of their tail. With snakes, the venom glands are gently massaged as they rest their fangs on a martini glass. After they surrender to the venom, the substance will be sent to researchers around the globe.

Rat species, including rattlesnakes, have unusual adaptations. The “pit” is a place where a biological device allows the snake to feel the heat of its prey. “You can blindfold a snake and it will still attack the target,” Dr. Boyer said.

But it’s not just venom that is better understood today. In the last few years, there has been a well-coordinated and well-coordinated search for antivenom.

In 2019, the Wellcome Trust created a $100 million fund to pursue. Since then, there have been numerous research efforts around the world in search of a single universal treatment – a treatment that could be delivered to remote areas to immediately help someone. that is bitten by any venomous snake. Currently, different types of venomous snake bites have different venoms.

It has been difficult. The wide range of components in venom that are beneficial for new drug research also makes it difficult to find drugs that can neutralize them. A promising universal antivenom, varespladib, is in clinical trials.

Experts hope the role of venom will lead to more respect for the fear-inducing creatures who create them. Dr. Fry, with his work on anticoagulants, is studying the venom of the Komodo dragon, the largest lizard in the world, 10 feet long and 300 pounds heavier, the largest lizard in the world. . It is also highly endangered.

Working on Komodo, “allows us to talk about the broader conservation message,” he said.

“You want nature around because it’s a biobank,” he adds. “We could only find these interesting compounds from these beautiful creatures if they hadn’t gone extinct.”

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