Friday, September 26, 2008

Scorpions: Leading the Battle Against Brain Cancer

It could kill you: For the most part, scorpions use their toxins to capture prey, ward off competitors during mating season, and defend themselves against larger predators. Unfortunately, humans count as larger predators. A sting by some species can leave you with any number of potentially deadly conditions, including heart and lung failure.

But it just might cure you: Medical researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have discovered a new use for scorpion venom—in cancer medication. Each year, some 9,000 Americans are diagnosed with malignant glioma, a form of brain cancer that kills about half its victims within a year of diagnosis.

Glioma cells work a lot like cockroach muscle cells. And while that fact is pretty disgusting, it also got UAB researchers thinking about the giant Israeli scorpion, whose venom is harmless to humans but deadly to its cockroach prey. Doctors found that when they injected a drug derived from the venom of giant Israeli scorpions into cancer-infected human brains, the poison destroyed the glioma cells and left surrounding, healthy cells alone. The treatment is still in the early stages of development, but researchers remain optimistic. Photo source:

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