The power of the poison to help medicine

The power of the poison to help medicine

Sam Robinson will not quickly forget his hideous encounter with a huge tree covered with thorns in the Main Range National Park. In 2018, he joined an expedition to one of the Australian rainforests on a Dendrocnidus Excelsa and then decided with his left handTo grab characteristic hair of the tree to see if the pain was worthy of its infamous reputation.

"In fact, it was as painful as they said, he laughs. It was really shocking that a plant could cause so much pain."

The "intensive and gripping pain" crawled up her left arm and hammered against the left side of her chest. A few months later he touched another one, but this time with the right hand, and the poking only occurred on the right side of his chest;The pain therefore hung from the body side with which the tree was touched.

Sam Robinson, a researcher at the Institute for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Queensland, does not violate fun (although he records the effect of every bite on social media). He is part of a constantly growing group of researchers who are convinced of itthat poisons occurring in nature reserve unused medical potential.

Thanks to the technological progress of the past ten years, there has been a wealth of data on the behavior of different poisons and its effects on the body., Cancer and more.

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Mandë Holford, professor of chemistry at Hunter College and Graduate School at the University of the City of New York, researches the therapeutic forces of snail poison. The poison of the cones, a snail type, is one of the most fatal in the world.

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Prial is already made from the cones, a medication that can only be administered in the spine by injection.would act.

Photo by Robert Clark, National Geographic

Some medication obtained from poison is already available. One of the first blood pressure medication approved for clinical application (captopril) is due to the examination of the poison of Bothrops Jararaca, a rattlesnake whose bite lowers the blood pressure of prey (exenatide), a medication, which lowers the blood sugar level for type 2 diabetics, was made from the saliva of the monster of Gila, this toxic lizard from North America. And the snail poison of the Art Conidae gave prial (ziconotide), a pain reliever that directly into the brainSpinal cord liquid was injected.

But according to Sam Robinson and others, a lot more could be done to transform the molecules in poison into safe and effective medication for humans.

Venom is both "the villain and the superheld", comments Mandë Holford, professor of chemistry at Hunter College and Graduate School at the University of the City of New York, to be void snails are her favorite topic, and she studies the evolution of poisons with the ultimateThe aim of deciphering her genome; it calls it the "rosetta stone of the poison".

"If we do not understand the language how poison genes develop and work, then we only tinker on the surface," she explains.

Pain evaluation and structure of its mechanisms

If poisonous creatures are examined, it is one of the risks of the profession to be bitten or stung, but only a few researchers have decided to describe the incomparable pain caused by these poisoning.Evaluation of the pain experienced enables researchers to compare and distinguish sensations, and it is used to find out how the composition of certain poisons interacts with the nervous system.

In the late 1970s, the entomologist Justin O. Schmidt, who today works at the Southwest Biological Institute in Arizona, began with the cataloging of the various insect bites that he had inflicted on, and created the famous Schmidt-Schmerz scale.From a Florida Harvester (a large red ant) who decided to take the jump.

"Suppose you are bitten in your arm," recalls Justin O. Schmidt of the experience. "Well, your hair is standing up to mountains, like a frightened dog."

This unusual reaction aroused his curiosity. "That was really clear to me that we needed a way to compare pain caused by insects," he says. In his book The Sting of the Wild, he describes the stitches thatcan be added by three -way species, and evaluates the pain suffered with an assessment of 1 for tolerable sensation up to 4 for unbearable pain.

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The crown of Dendrocnidus Excelsa, a giant of the forests of the forests of Eastern Australia, can become up to 40 meters high, but usually people are tricked through their green cousins, which are closer to the ground.The symptoms can return weeks later.

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The stitch of the bullame iron (Myrmecia) is particularly painful. In 2018, a team under the direction of Sam Robinson published the first comprehensive study on his poison that could enable researchers to develop a new kind of pain reliever.

Photo by Sam Robinson

Sam Robinson, who is also a National Geographic Decker, began about 40 years after Schmidt with the professional research of Gift. In inspired by his famous scale, he began to rate his own burns on social media according to the same criteria. He also works on itto decipher the most malignant poisons and recently participated in research on Dendocnid Excelsa, Limacodidae and Spuckkobras.

Die Kraft des Giftes zur Hilfe der medicine

In such a study, Sam Robinson Justin O. Schmidt joined in Arizona to collect velvet iron that are actually colorful wasps without wings and hairy bodies. This nickname "Kuh-Killer" cause a stab that Sam Robinson on hisTwitter account as "a growing, pulsating bite that itches and swells", describes. Justin O. Schmidt gives even more details in his book: "Explosive and endless, you scream like crazy.that they spill over their whole hand. Beidated the bite with 3 out of 4.

In February, the two researchers and their employees published the very first report on the composition and function of velvet venom.the ion channel by clinging to it and keeping it open if it should be closed. Then a pain signal is sent to the brain.

If the researchers understand how such poisons work, researchers may develop new drugs that aim at the same receptors but relieve pain instead of causing them.

Toxic trees and cancer treatments

The example of Dendrocnide Excelsa shows that the poisons occurring in nature contain the secret of the cellular mechanisms that are responsible for the pain. In contrast to the velvet bite, the insidious pain of Dendrocnidus Excelsa can be reactivated hours after decay. ""If you pour cold water in, the pain suddenly becomes as intense as at the beginning, ”warns Sam Robinson, who knows it well.

Certain drugs that are administered during chemotherapy have exactly this effect, the so -called thermal allodynia, which causes a painful feeling in cancer patients when they touch cold objects.

"So if we could find out which toxin is in this tree and how it works, we may know more about the mechanism that controls thermal allodynia," says Sam Robinson. And maybe we can find a rational wayto prevent."

In his provisional camp in the Chu-Yang-Sin National Park in Vietnam, the National Geographic researcher Zoltan Takacs put a scorpion in a box to get him out of the jungle. Together with Vietnamese researchers, he traveled to the park to scorpione, snakes, Dig out snails, frogs and spiders that should enable them to extract fatal toxins and examine them to develop new medical treatments.

Photo by David Guttenfelder, National Geographic

In order to examine these strange trees, one of Sam Robinson's colleague brought seeds from Dendrocnidus Excelsa from the rainforests of the northern Queensland and breeded them in the laboratory. The researchers shaved a few hair (which can measure up to 7 or 8 millimeters) and extracted the poison. (Some then decided to adopt the trees and put them in their garden).

Preliminary investigations indicate that the toxin of this tree is chemically similar to a scorpion or a bird spider. The team also discovered that this toxin aims at an ion channel that is called "sodium voltaic channel" and occurs in all nerve cells in the animal kingdom.Vetter and Thomas Durek, colleagues from Sam Robinson from the University of Queensland, continue researching to find out how stings by dendocnid excelsa thermal allodynia.

"I can only say that it is surprisingly complex, but we are making progress," says Sam Robinson.

The chemical knowledge of the various poisons is a tool that may make it possible to combat cancer directly.can inhibit the production of cancer cells while healthy cells remain alone.

In Great Britain, Carol Trim, professor at Christchurch University, and her doctoral student Danielle McCullough are examining a protein that occurs in some cancer cells (the EGF receptor) and how the poison of snakes, scorpions and bird spiders inhibits the activity of this receptor.Mandë Holford Peptide tries to isolate snail poison to develop new therapies against cancer and pain.

She also tries to decipher the genes of the poison by cultivating mini glands or organoids from stem cells. Districting researchers have recently succeeded in breeding poisonous snake glands, but Mandë Holford prefers to concentrate on snails and the modeling of their poison-sea clerk.One day she hopes to be able to create a comprehensive library of poison glands that enables us to examine the genes of these laboratory organoids.

"The organoids will enable us not only to learn this language, but also to manipulate," explains Mandë Holford, who also founded Killer Snails, a company specializing in education technologies. "Ultimately, we have a lot more control over what gift peptides forcan do us. "

But there is still a big challenge ahead of us: Most of the poison -based drugs have to be injected, otherwise the peptides are dismantled in the digestive system., the molecule must resist in the stomach or in the liver and can dissolve in the bloodstream.

To do this, we have to strive to reconstruct peptide. It is a research area that Steve Trime calls "an exciting new science".

Despite all the progress in poison studies, Mandë Holford never loses sight of that all this work is based on imitating and manipulating what nature has already invented.

"Animals lead us and they lead us with tools that we know about," she says. The trick is now to find out how they work. "

This article originally appeared on national geographic.com in English.

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