Saturday, May 20, 2006

wonders never cease

Science works in strange yet consistent ways: Tectin is a pain reliever being developed from one of the most poisonous toxins in the world, the tetradotoxin of the pufferfish. The Japanese ingest the pufferfish raw as sashimi, braving a torturous death from sloppy preparation. The viscera of this fish (and other animals such as octopus, frog and salamander species), including the liver and sex organs, teem with this concentrated poison. Pufferfish also have the shortest recorded genome of any vertebrate.

Tetrodotoxin binds to sodium channels, preventing sodium influx into nerve axons. It also acts on vascular smooth muscle and skeletal muscle. Symptoms of tetrodotoxin occur rapidly after ingestion and include weakness, dizziness, paresthesias of the face and extremities, nausea, and loss of reflexes. With higher doses there is severe hypotension and, in some cases, general paralysis. Death can occur due to respiratory failure and hypotension. It is not unusual for the patient to remain conscious while paralyzed.

Western medicine records the first case of poisoning on Captain Cook's voyage, when local tropical pufferfish were fed to the ship's pigs. Smaller amounts of tetradotoxin can cause a state of total paralysis which has been utilized for centuries in conjunction with folk superstitions to make people into 'zombies'.

But following in the success of zicontide(Prialt(R)), the pain reliever made the venom of the cone snail, researchers started looking at other natural venoms to see if they could be tamed as pain relievers. These new pain relievers is touted as a non-addictive pain reliever 1000 times as powerful as, and possibly a replacement for, morphine. These are various peptides, targeting each a specific nerve channel or receptor. This venom also contains a pain-reducing component, first pacifying the victim, before immobilising and then killing it.  Many peptides produced by the cone snails show prospects for being potent pharmaceuticals, such as AVC1, isolated from the Australian cone shell Conus victoriae. This has proved very effective in treating post-surgical and neuropathic pain, even accelerating recovery from nerve injury. Other drugs are in clinical and preclinical trials, such as compounds of the toxin that may be used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and epilepsy.

Personal Note: I will be in Crete next week! In case anyone has wondered why the decrease in posts, it is because Blogger's post editor sucks my balls and gives me a 'failure to connect message' every time I finish a post with pictures. Then it won't connect. Of course, I could write Blogger, but so far all the douchebags at the Help Desk seem to want to do is chastize me for not reading the technical FAQ in detail. So hey, fuck you guys for all your non-help.

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