ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Venomous snails offer a weapon to kill pain

Updated on April 28, 2008

Sea snails that hunt fish by spitting tiny venom-tipped harpoons at them are being used to develop life-saving medicines. One group of scientists has already succeeded in pinpointing a new long-lasting anaesthetic and others have created a powerful, non-addictive painkiller from the snail poison.

'There are several hundred different species of cone snail and all use poisons to kill their prey,' said Professor Alan Harvey of Strathclyde University's institute of drug research. 'In turn, each species uses poison made up of several hundred different compounds which offers us, in total, an extremely wide range of chemicals to test and develop.'

His team is the only British group involved in the £8m EU-funded Cone Snail Genome Project for Health, Conco, that has been set up specifically to study cone snails, isolate their toxins and exploit those that make the most promising medicines. Scientists believe that cone snail toxins offer particular promise in the development of:

· drugs for treating stroke victims;

· powerful painkillers;

· medicines for controlling the effects of diabetes;

· new anti-microbial agents.

Cone snails live in seas worldwide. However, the largest ones are found in warm tropical waters, including those of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. All have twisted shells shaped like ice-cream cones, although individuals rarely grow bigger than a few inches.

Scientists now know cone snails are hunters: some kill molluscs, others attack fish. A classic example of their predation is provided by the snail type Conus consors, which is found in the Pacific Ocean. 'It's hunting is spectacular,' said Harvey. 'When a snail detects a fish, it loads a little tip at the end of a proboscis - it's like a microscopic harpoon - with venom and fires it by a powerful muscular contraction. The venom contains a cocktail of toxins, called conotoxins, which instantly paralyses and kills the fish. The snail then crawls over and engulfs its prey.'

Researchers working for the Conco project, which is being co-ordinated by Dr Reto Stöcklin at the Atheris Laboratories in Geneva, have already isolated one toxin from Conus consors which has shown considerable potential as a long-lasting local anaesthetic. Development work on this drug is now being carried out at several laboratories.

As part of the project, scientists intend to sequence the entire genome of Conus consors and identify every chemical in the complex cocktail of drugs that makes up its venom.

In addition, marine biologists are seeking out new species of cone snail - in the Indian and Pacific Oceans - which would provide further sources of drugs.

However, the cone snail drug that has reached the most advanced stage of development is ziconotide, developed by Professor Baldomero Olivera at the University of Utah. It is 1,000 times more potent than morphine but is not addictive. It is aimed at people suffering from severe, chronic pain, experienced by those with severe arthritis or head injuries, for example, and is a synthetic version of the venom used by Conus magus, the Magician's Cone Snail.

Olivera and his colleague Michael McIntosh identified one venom component that blocks the calcium channels on the nerves that transmit pain signals. Once the channels are blocked, calcium cannot enter the cells and pain signals are prevented from travelling between nerve cells.

'There have been amazing stories told about people taking ziconotide during trials - of people who couldn't walk because of nerve damage to their legs but who were able to dance after a few weeks of taking the stuff,' said Harvey. 'That shows the potential of this approach and indicates the kind of discovery we want to replicate.'



    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)