Potential pain relief by cone snail venom: more complex than first thought

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Potential pain relief by cone snail venom: more complex than first thought

Over decades, scientists at the Queensland have been studying cone snails of many different shapes and sizes. Moreover, previous discoveries incorporated a new prototype drug for the treatment of chronic pain. A recent discovery by Paul Alewood and group made this investigation a stride further.

They deeply observed the venom of the bishop’s cone snail and by combining two chemical techniques to visualize snail’s venom duct in order to discover more about its content than ever before. Earlier it was assumed that cone snail venom could contain more than 100 different peptides, or conotoxins, which may be applicable across many areas of medicine.

"Combining that technology, we are now getting a lot of surprises," Professor Alewood said.

"We're finding there are probably not 100 but more like 10,000 components." Although the team has a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council for pain relief research, but professor Alewood believes some of the molecules have potential in cancer treatment because of their ability to prevent both cell growth and cell death.

The most exciting components were the ones that could help target chronic pain without the side effects of existing pain relief drugs and hopefully more effectively than previous conotoxin-based efforts. "We don't have many pain drugs out there," he said.

"You probably know most of them: Aspirin, paracetamol, the Voltarens of the world, morphine. but after that the arsenal's very low." Professor Alewood said. Molecules that could help treat neuropathic pain related to nerve damage, diabetes and cancer were particular exciting.

Besides pain relief, he proposed the team's combined approach to analyze the venom could be applied across studies into other venomous species and even in humans, where researchers wanted to look at proteins expressed from cells.

There are several types of cone snails along the Australian drift alone, large portions of which could hold comparable drugs prospects.

University of Queensland
Exploratory, Cone snails, Chronic pain
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