Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The deadly sea snail venom that will take away your pain

By Aussiegirl

Once again we see that Mother Nature has created some of the world's most potent and complex chemicals. What a miracle that such helpful medicine could come from such a toxic venom.

The deadly sea snail venom that will take away your pain - Health - Times Online

A NEW painkiller based on the venom of a sea snail will be available in Britain from today.
Prialt, or ziconotide, is the result of more than 20 years’ research by a scientist born in the Philippines, Baldomera Olivera, who is a professor at the University of Utah.

It is 1,000 times more potent than morphine but, unlike that drug, is not addictive. It is aimed at people suffering from severe, chronic pain who would normally require morphine.

Given by injection into the fluid around the spine, it is the first non-opioid painkiller using this method of administration to be approved in Europe.

Chronic pain is a common problem, surveys indicating that it is suffered by as many as one in seven people. Back pain and arthritis are the commonest causes, with headache and injury also affecting many people.

[...]Prialt, made by Eisai, is designed for these extreme cases. It is a synthetic version of the venom used by Conus magus, the Magician’s Cone Snail, to hunt prey.

The two-inch snail, native to coral reefs in the Pacific, hunts by shooting out a thin wormlike tube into fish swimming by. The venom is injected into the fish, which are paralysed and can be swallowed whole. Professor Olivera used to collect the shells of the snails as a boy, then went on to study them.

The venom was discovered by a teenager, Michael McIntosh, who started to help with the research soon after leaving school. Now, 25 years later, he is a research psychiatrist at the University of Utah and still works with Professor Olivera.

Together they analysed the venom and identified one peptide (a short chain of amino acids) that stopped nerve cells sending signals to the brain. It acts by blocking the calcium channels on the nerves that transmit pain signals. Once the channels are blocked, calcium cannot enter the cells, and pain signals are blocked from travelling between nerve cells.

Prialt was licensed in Europe by Elan, which sold it to Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical company best known in Britain for the Alzheimer drug Aricept. There may be more to come from the cone snail, Professor Olivera believes. There are 500 different types, and each produces as many as 100 toxins in its venom. He hopes that they will provide compounds to treat a wide range of conditions, from Parkinson’s disease to depression.


At 1:04 AM, Blogger April said...

I love that no matter how hard science tries, it always comes back to finding something better that Mother Nature gave us a long time ago to cure our ailments. I've never found something, other than a natural source to work as effectively on my back pain. Some things help relief my pain for a time, such as exercise and my massage chair so atleast those things are a step in the right direction! Thanks for the tip, I'll have to learn more about this snail thing.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger TJW said...

This is one of the things I most love about UT! You never really know what to expect! This "Snail Thing" story to quote april is a prime example!

One day its pure politics, the next a history lesson on religion, tomorrow who knows, it could be a stellar hard science piece the day after? Nothing escapes notice or remains off the table for long here. Cowper’s “Variety is the very spice of life” is not just some nifty sounding idiom here; it seems to be the underlying philosophy at U.T. that makes this such a fun, educational, and thought-provoking place to visit.

Cool piece Aussiegirl! Keep the great stuff coming!


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