Here I thought snails were just cute little creatures that liked to dine in my vegetable garden. You can imagine my surprise to learn there are also carnivorous snails….with venom. New research shows that conotoxin, isolated from cone snail venom, can numb pain. Conotoxin is also reportedly 100 times more potent than morphine at treating chronic nerve pain. The added benefit is that it does not appear to be addictive.
The snail to the rescue is the marine carnivorous cone snail common to the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. It hunts by stabbing prey and injecting a venom that paralyzes their victim as seen in this YouTube video:
David Craik (University of Queensland, Australia) is the lead investigator of this new research. In a recent press statement, Dr. Craik was quoted saying, “This is an important incremental step that could serve as the blueprint for the development of a whole new class of drugs capable of relieving one of the most severe forms of chronic pain that is currently very difficult to treat.”
As opposed to existing conotoxin-based medications, like ziconotide that must be infused, Dr. Craik is studying the effectiveness of five new oral compounds. As is typical for snails and clinical trials, testing in humans is not expected to begin for a couple of years.
I tend to agree with Invertebrate Diversity that this just may in fact be the coolest snail in the world.