Australian researchers have discovered a new mixture of chemicals that could provide the foundation for revolutionary cancer-treating drugs — and this mixture is actually a bunch of peptide toxins contained in the venom of one Australian predatory cone snail.
According to Tech Times, the snail with this particular venom is called the Conus episcopatus and is one of Australia’s 700 species of cone snails.
Just the smallest amount of this snail’s venom can kill humans, and there have been at least 30 cases of this happening, since the cone snail “becomes aggressive when provoked,” but the researchers, who work at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, reportedly developed a new method to extract certain toxins from the venom for molecular analysis.
Business Insider Australia reports that scientists have long known that the toxins in venom of predatory cone snails could yield valuable chemical compounds for drugs, but the new analysis method used at the University of Queensland allowed the researchers to get a closer look at individual peptides — or mini-proteins — than they have ever seen before.
“This study gives the first-ever snapshot of the toxins that exist in the venom of a single cone snail,” professor and researcher Paul Alewood stated in the University’s recent press release. “Cone snail venoms are a complex cocktail of many chemicals and most of these toxins have been overlooked in the past.”
The new method has only been applied to the Conus episcopatus, Science World Report states, but the researchers noted that it will be possible to examine the venoms of other animals using similar methods.
Currently, the Conus episcopatus toxins have not yet been tested on humans or animals, but the peptides found in the venom are similar to the proteins used for treatment of pain, addiction, and cancer.
Millions of Americans are already living with cancer and chronic pain, and medical experts have predicted that these numbers will only continue to rise; it’s estimated that at least one in every five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer (which is one of the most common forms of cancer, and also one of the deadliest).
It could be years before the toxins are actually implemented in drugs and used to treat patients, but if it proves to be successful, it could change the healthcare industry as a whole.