The deadly venom of a poisonous sea snail could hold the key to developing new medicines including more effective and less addictive forms of pain relief.
University of Glasgow scientists are setting out to learn more about the unique form of venom produced by cone snails. They are predatory marine animals found in warm seas and oceans throughout the word.
The cone snail’s venom contains chemicals called conotoxins. These are highly potent neurotoxic peptides which it uses to paralyze its prey by blocking parts of their nervous systems.
While that effect is often fatal to the cone snail’s prey, modified peptides based on the venom could form the basis of future drugs capable of safely blocking pain receptors in the human body.
There have been documented cases where stings from large cone snails have been fatal to people, while humans are rarely seriously injured by cone snails. There is no anti-toxin available. This means that serious stings cannot be effectively treated.
Scientists hope that their project could also help lead to the development of the first-ever treatments for conotoxin poisoning in the future.
Experts in conotoxin chemistry and protein biochemistry from the University of Glasgow are teaming up with machine learning and artificial intelligence researchers from the University of Southampton to better understand how the cone snail’s venom works to affect human muscles.
Scientists will work to investigate how conotoxin peptides are structured at the molecular level.
They will build on that knowledge to synthesize new peptides which show promise for interacting with a particular type of receptors in the human nervous system known as nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.
They will use advanced computer modelling techniques and will run simulations to determine their effectiveness in binding with muscle receptors.