Do Deadly Venoms Have the Potential to Heal?
New technology is allowing researchers to study deadly venoms with the goal of finding new therapies for diseases. To date, only six venoms have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as drugs, but Professor Mandë Holford (Hunter College, The Graduate Center, CUNY) and her colleagues believe greater investment in venom research could yield new and better medications.
Holford presented her theory in a paper in Science.
According to Holford and her colleagues, there are more than 220,000 known venomous animal species, ranging from desert snakes and scorpions to Antarctic sea anemones and jellyfish. Yet most of their venoms have not been studied because, until recently, researchers did not have the technology to scrutinize the tiny amounts of venom extracted from small animals. However, recent “omics” technologies have enabled the study of venoms from animals that are small, rare, or hard to maintain in the lab.
Holford’s group applies a systems biology approach, called venomics, which combines genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics to discover new venoms. Her lab also takes an evolutionary approach to venoms. “New environments, the development of venom resistance in its prey, and other factors can cause a species to evolve in order to survive,” said Holford. “These changes can produce novel compounds — some of which may prove extremely useful in drug development.”
The specificity, potency, stability, and speed with which venom peptides manipulate their targets make them ideal candidates for therapeutic drugs. Potential drug advances include peptides derived from the venomous sea anemone, which researchers believe could treat autoimmune diseases; therapeutic neurotoxins derived from a species of sea snail known as the magical cone, which scientists think could provide non-addictive treatment of chronic pain; and chlorotoxin from the deathstalker scorpion, which could be the basis for a surgical tumor-imaging technique.