The Cone Snail is an amazing creature. After more than 20 years of research, a Filipino scientist has discovered that this sea dweller may hold the key to some of the world’s most critical diseases. With years of research and countless hours of studies, could the solutions to many of the world’s most painful and debilitating illnesses lay inside the venom of a deadly, yet beautiful multicolored sea snail measuring fewer than 9 inches in length?
Cone Snail Venom is now the treatment for chronic pain relief and is available to comfort those who get no relief from conventional medications. In the discovery of the Cone Snail, Dr. Baldomero Olivera never would have guessed it would lead to such a medical breakthrough in modern medicine. At an early age, growing up in the Philippines, Olivera had a strong fascination with the stunning snail. After graduating from Sanford University, he returned to his home country, with the same allure for those snails.
Upon his return, he began researching the Cone Snail, with a desperate need to know why this snail could kill so many people. Through his research he found that the Cone Snail was so lethal because of the over 100 different toxins found in its venom. Olivera later returned to the U. S. taking a job as a professor at the University of Utah. With a team of scientists, he continued his research. He extracted the venom from the snails, found in the tropical reefs of the Philippine waters. Using the venom, he examined each component.
With the help of lab rats, Olivera and his group tested the different toxins, noting that each one, within the venomous mixture caused a different reaction in the rats. The discoveries made knocked the medical world on its ear! For the findings made by Dr. Olivera and his team, he decided to use his first language, Filipino, to name his results. One component he named “Conantukin” because it caused a lab mouse to fall asleep. Conantukin is now used to treat epilepsy. Another component found was named “Contulakin” because it caused a mouse to thrust bout. Contulakin is used to treat incurable pain. During the many years of Dr. Olivera’s research he also discovered that Cone Snail venom was extremely lethal. However, it could also be used as an antidote against itself. This venom, if stung by the snail could be 1,000 times more powerful than a deadly dose of Morphine. With more than 100 different components in a single Cone Snail, each toxin can mean the possibility of a new potential drug. According to National Geographic News (2009), scientists have studied less than one percent of them [toxins].
These creatures may very well hold the cures to some of our most deadly diseases. Obtaining the venom from a Cone Snail can be utterly disastrous. A small handful of scientists prefer to “milk” the snails, using the same method a person would use to get venom from a snake. This form of extraction can be extremely dangerous and potential deadly if not conducted in the proper manner. Jon-Paul Bingham, a biochemist at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, and also a member of Olivera’s research team, is the leading scientist in Cone Snail milking.
Bingham states, “The reason for “milking” is because the Cone Snail is on the verge of becoming extinct” Philippine News (2007). This is because of losing much of the coral reefs, found in warm tropical waters. These reefs happen to be the natural habitat for the Cone Snail. Without them, the population of the snails is quickly diminishing. As another member of Olivera’s team, Eric Chivian, founder and director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University, has stated that 26% of the coral reefs are damaged beyond repair, while 30-50% is in seriously bad shape Washington Post (2004). Milking” the Cone Snail, allows scientists to use fewer snails for their research by keeping what snails they do use, alive. Many other scientists choose to simply dissect dead Cone Snails found on the shores or floating in the waters. They cut into the venom duct by removing the harpoon like needle to extract the venom from the venom bulb. To help with the depleting of the snails, many of the same scientists will raise snails of their own to use for their research. Because of the research conducted on these snails, scientists have now found the next generation of pain relief.
Prialt or Primary Alternative to Morphine is the end result of over 20 years of research and one of the many new medications that were developed from the venom of Cone Snail. It was approved by the FDA to use in the United States on December 28th, 2004. This medication cannot be given orally however due to the toxins that can cause damage to the heart and other vital organs. Prialt is given by injection, directly into the fluid in the spinal canal, using a pain pump. This method allows the medication to travel straight to the brain and bypass all internal organs.
This medication is also not habit forming therefore no addictions can develop. There are many severe side effects to Prialt, if the dosage is not correct. These side effects may include: memory problems, double vision, fever, headaches, chills, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, and seizures, sensitively to light, depression, and hallucinations. Other, less severe, side effects are: diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, stomach pain, loss of balance, and urinating less than normal. These side effects may become bothersome but should go away with time.
However, if a person has a family history of psychological or mental problems, they should not take this medication. This drug is used to treat people with chronic to severe pain that do not or cannot get relief from normal narcotics. These include patients that have cancer, AIDS, CRPS/RSD, and other neuropathic diseases. This medication should be used as a last resort because it is so high potentate. The manufacturer of this medicine, Elan Corp. located in Ireland, is hoping that will change.
However, Robert Myer, Director of the FDA’s Office of Drug Evaluation II, has stated that he believes Prialt will not become a household name in the pharmaceutical industry Food and Drug Administration (2004). As written in the Washington Post (2004), Elan’s President of Global Research, Lars Ekman, said as many as 100,000 people in the U. S. might be helped by this drug. This drug has become an exciting new breakthrough in the medical field. Pill form of the medication failed FDA approval, at the same time the injectable form was passed. The pill form of Prialt is too dangerous to be used.
During the studies conducted by Elan Corporation, the pill was not safe for the rats, therefore would not be safe for human use. However, the corporation has not given up hope that one day they will develop a pill that is safe to use. Since this medication is not recommend for everyone, a person should speak to their doctor about all medications, prescription and over-the-counter that they are taking. Any medication that causes drowsiness such as sleeping pills, cold and allergy medicines, narcotics, muscle relaxers, or medication for depression, anxiety, or seizures can increase the effect of Prialt.
Also, let the doctor know if any types of diuretic such as Lasik or Furosemide are being taken. Even some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like vitamins, herbal supplements, and sleep-aids can interact with Prialt. A person must always inform any doctor they see that they are taking Prialt; this is for safety and health reasons. Before being allowed to use Prialt, a patient must undergo a psychiatric evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist. This stipulation comes from the FDA. It is a way that our Food and Drug Administration can ensure the health and well-being of those taking this medication.
Cone Snail Venom is not a drug everyone can use. However, if given to the right patients, it can mean the ability to walk again and live a normal life. Because of the scientists that have put so much time and effort into the research of this captivating creature, our world is now looking at a breakthrough in pain management. The magnificent Cone Snail, though deadly if stung, can hold the key to many of the illnesses that plague the human body. The stunning and fascinating snail has the ability to turn the science community upside-down with the numerous secrets it holds within its shell.
- FDA. (2004, April). USA Food and Drug Administration.
- Retrieved from http://www. fda. gov/ Kaufman, M. (2004, December 29).
- New Drug Is Approved To Treat Chronic Pain. Retrieved from http://washingtonpost. com Kaufman, M. (2004, December 29).
- Sea Snail venom paves way for potent new painkiller.
- Retrieved from http://washingtonpost. com Roach, J. (July 14, 2005).
- Toxic Snail Venoms Yielding New Painkillers, Drugs.
- National Geographic New. Retrieved from http://news. nationalgeographic. com/news/2005/06/0614_050614_snaildrugs. html