Cone snail venom may hold cure for cancer, addiction

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Washington: Cone snail venom may lead to medical treatments for some cancers and nicotine addiction, a new study has found.

Cone snails are marine mollusks, just as conch, octopi and squid, but they capture their prey using venom.

The venom of these marine critters provides leads for detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions, researchers said.

Frank Mari, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in Charles E Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, has focused his research on cone snail venom.

“The venom produced by these animals immobilises prey, which can be worms, other snails and fish. The venom is an extraordinary complex mixture of compounds with medicinal properties,” Mari said.

The venom components selectively target cells in the body and make them valuable drug leads and powerful molecular tools for understanding the human body’s processes, researchers said.

One class of venom components is the alpha-conotoxins, named so because they target nicotinic receptors that are central to a range of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction and lung cancer.

The venom of a particular species of cone snail, Conus regius, collected by Mari’s group, is particularly rich in alpha conotoxins.

Aldo Franco, who worked in Mari’s lab has described more than ten new alpha-conotoxins in his PhD dissertation at FAU.

Among these, the team found RegIIA, a compound that potently blocked the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptor. This particular receptor when activated can be associated with lung cancer and nicotine addiction.

“We investigated in detail how RegIIA interacts with the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptors and embarked on engineering new compounds that were more specific toward alpha3beta4 receptors and not other nicotinic receptors,” said Mari.

“Our aim is to open new avenues for cancer and addiction research inspired on compounds from marine animals,” Mari added.

The research has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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