Next in Pharmaceutical Pain Relief, Cone Snail Venom?

The toxins in the venom of a particular species of cone snail may hold the key to developing more effective pain treatments.

The toxins in the venom of a particular species of cone snail may hold the key to developing more effective pain treatments.

Paul Alewood, PhD, and a team of researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) recently published results from a study that evaluated the molecular structure of venom from Conus episcopatus, a type of cone snail found along the east coast of Australia. This is not the first time that snail venom has been studied for its potential analgesic effects, even honey bee and cobra venom have been studied in the development of painkillers. However, this specific venom has been identified from 700 different species of cone snails and could be just what the doctor ordered to treat pain and cancer.

“Cone snail venoms are a complex cocktail of many chemicals and most of these toxins have been overlooked in the past,” Alewood, a professor in the Institute for Molecular Biology at the university, said in a news release.

Although cone snail venom has been shown to hold pharmaceutical value, this is the first time a high-definition snapshot of the toxins has been uncovered. The team used biochemical and bioinformatics tools to find 3,305 toxin sequences classified into 9 existing superfamilies as well as 16 new superfamilies — all found in a single specimen of Conus.

“We anticipate there are a lot more interesting molecules to be found in the venom of other species, and we are keen to explore these using our new approach,” Alewood said.

Over the past 25 years, researchers have identified 25 3D-shaped molecules, called frameworks, which have helped with the development of drugs. According to the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an additional 6 frameworks were revealed in the study which the UQ team suspects could lead to more medications.

“We expect these newly discovered frameworks will also lead to new medications, which can be used to treat pain, cancer and a range of other diseases,” Alewood explained.

Not only did this strategy give insight to the benefits of cone snail venom, but it could also be a way to study other animal venom or analyze cells expression.

“It will help us gain a better understanding of biology, look for disease patterns or discover potential new drugs,” Alewood concluded.