Deadly venom could cure cancer

Snailed it: Purple cone snails are found on the coast of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

Does nature give us the best medicine? Scientists are studying the deadly venom of a cone snail. It is venomous enough to kill a human in minutes, but it could also be used to cure diseases.

What’s happening

A scientist called Frank Marí has spent 15 years studying venomous cone snails. He is particularly interested in purple cone snails, which sting and paralyse their food before they eat it. Now, Marí thinks that some of the chemicals in the snail’s venom could cure human diseases.

Find out more

“The snails are not really like any other creature on Earth,” says Marí. Working with them is a bit like working with aliens. Much of this is due to their amazing sting, which instantly paralyses its victims.

By studying how this deadly poison works, Marí hopes to discover news ways to cure diseases. For example, understanding why the venom‘ causes a speedy paralysis could help scientists find a way to make medicine spread through the body faster. Some think it could also be used to fight Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or even addiction.

Marí is not the first scientist to look to nature for inspiration. From snail venom, to geckos’ feet, and even porcupine quills, the natural world has impressive solutions to human problems.

Are natural cures always best?

Some say…

Of course. Life on earth has been evolving for millions of years. In that time, plants and animals have learned to do some incredible things. It is up to scientists to find out what those things are, and then think creatively about how we can use them to our advantage. That is how medicine worked for thousands of years, and we should not forget it.

Others think…

Not so fast. Relying on natural medicines and cures was not always successful. Do we really want to return to a world of leeches and mercury poisoning? Looking to nature for inspiration is all well and good. But we should not forget that more recent, man-made medicines have led to fewer deaths from diseases than at any other point in history.

You Decide

  1. Is nature the best medicine?

Activities

  1. Create a fact file about cone snails, using the information in this article.

Some People Say...

“The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

Voltaire

What do you think?

Word Watch

Paralyse
To stop something from moving.
Alzheimer’s
A form of dementia, a disease which impairs the brain.
Diabetes
A condition that leads to high blood sugar.
Addiction
A condition of being dependent on something; it can mean a person feels unable to do anything.
Geckos’ feet
These have tiny hairs which help geckos stick to walls. The material could help doctors in surgery.
Porcupine quills
These are able to make tiny holes in skin, which could also help doctors in surgery.
Leeches
Worms used to extract blood.
Mercury
A liquid metal.

Subjects

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