Killer sea snail a target for new drugs to treat pain and cancer

During a recent study, scientists have found thousands of previously unknown peptide toxins in the venom of Conus episcopatus, a type of predatory cone snail. For those who don’t know: Conus episcopatus is found along the east coast of Australia. It’s one among the 700 cone snail species identified to date.

A very small amount of the venom of this particular cone snail species can kill humans. In fact, there are around 30 recorded instances of humans getting killed by these snails; these mollusks are known for reacting aggressively when provoked. Victims, however, don’t seem to experience too much pain as the venom of these cone snails contains an analgesic agent.

In spite of known the deadly traits of cone snail venom, researchers are hoping to use it for formulating new drugs that will effectively treat addiction, pain, and cancer.

Florida Atlantic University’s Frank Mari said that the animal uses its venom for immobilizing its preys, which may include worms, fish, as well as other snails. The venom contains a unique combination of medicinal properties and toxic compounds.

The new study has put forward a new procedure of analyzing the structure of the toxins present in the cone snail venom. This procedure involves the use of bioinformatics and biochemical tools and allows scientists to inspect the venom more thoroughly than ever before.

When analyzing the structure of the toxins using this new method, scientists came to know that no other cone snail venom contains so many peptides.

University of Queensland’s Paul Alewood informed that the majority of these newly identified toxins had previously been overlooked by researchers. He added that the research team working on this project has also identified six original 3-D shaped molecules or frameworks that can be regarded as perfect drug leads.

The past two decades have seen scientists discover a total of 25 frameworks that have eventually resulted in the development of drug leads or drugs for combating diseases. Thus, the researchers said that they will now be able to use the new technique of analysis for finding more such useful molecules in venom produced by other species.

They added that this fresh approach might even help in studying the protein expression of cells and carrying out researches in related fields of study.