Snails to the rescue!

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.

Discovery News

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This is interesting to hear and read about. Do researchers think that this will actually happen and become a new resource for teaching pain? Why do they think that this snail's venom will be more successful than the pain killers we are already using in the medical field?

How it's possible that there are no comments yet about this story, is beyond me. The relief of pain is one of medicine's greatest achievements. Yet it has come at a price, as our most effective pain relievers produce physical dependencies and addictions that, when all is said and done, are miserable for chronic pain patients to endure.

The discovery of new types of pain relieving medicines that don't have those risks, has got to count as an enormous breakthrough. This would be even more so if the new pain relievers have few if any adverse interactions with other commonly-prescribed medicines. Further news of these developments will be eagerly anticipated by many.

Morphine and other drug relieving agents may induce a numerous amount of negative consequences; some of which include becoming addicted, suffering withdrawal, confusions as well as hallucinations and gastrointestinal side effects.

Thus, the discovery of a drug relieving agent which may not cause these intense and dire side effects is a tremendous contribution to the medical field.
Another immense advantage of this discovery of conotoxin is that it is so much stronger than morphine, which means less induced drug therapy is needed for a more productive effect. It can also mean that pain can be regulated more efficiently than with other drugs - such as morphine.

The conotoxin drug uses the conotoxin toxin to block ion channels (calcium channels) which then blocks the signal transfer from neuron to neuron, thus allowing paralysis as well as relieving pain from the area.

I believe that this is a truly meaningful discovery of science and an immense contribution to the medical field. This discovery can have a considerable impact on the lives of terminal patients, as well as less life threatening conditions because the drug is not as addictive as its competitors.

Thank you,
Elri van den Berg (u14008425)

By Elri van den B… (not verified) on 23 Apr 2014 #permalink

This is very interesting and could become a great achievement. To get an analgesic for relief of pain that is not addictive or have serious side effects will be a major break through.
I have to ask if it is not too good to be true for it to have no side effects at all?
If it does seem to have lower side effects than other pain stillers, I can not wait to hear about new developments in this research.

This is definitely one of the most interesting discoveries of all. A creature that can be used to fill an appetite now has another species that can numb pain. This will be a brilliant product for the medical industry, conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis results in unbearable pain across individuals and maybe this discovery would be the answer to relieving the pain on numerous occasions without becoming addicted to this medication - killing two birds with one stone. In the bigger picture, most medical conditions result in some kind of pain associated with it, this snail might have the solution to those too. In contrast, as the last post raised the questioned, there must be some kind of negative side effects?

By Chanelle Holtz… (not verified) on 02 May 2014 #permalink

Snail venom as a pain killer sounds like an odd concept but this may not be a bad idea if it is non addictive. Many patients become addicted to morphine and so this is a good alternative. Nerve pain is also a big problem, especially in older people. If this new "drug" is able to help them it would make the lives of many a lot more comfortable. I hope that these clinical trials will progress quickly so that there will be a good new drug on the market.

By Claire Viljoen… (not verified) on 04 May 2014 #permalink