Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 20th 2013 Contents A36
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Saturday, July 20, 2013
Nature, it turns out, is
one big medicine cabinet.
We can thank the willow
plant for the salicin that
turned into aspirin, and
the poppy for the pain-killing powers of morphine.
Even poison can become potions---a viper s venom,
for instance, is part of a powerful anti-clotting drug
that can keep blood flowing instead of clumping up.
Increasingly, such toxins are proving to be attractive
sources of potentially life-saving drugs.
About half of existing medications emerge from
the flora and fauna that surround us, which hints
that potentially thousands of additional drugs are
yet to be discovered, albeit protected by the vicious
bite of a poisonous snake or the harmful blood-suck-
ing of a tick.
From cancer treatment to painkillers, here are the
agents that may be hazardous materials today but
could evolve into powerful medications tomorrow.
Experienced chefs know how to slice into the
pufferfish to avoid the deadly tetrodotoxin, which
disrupts the nervous system and can cause fatal paral-
ysis of important muscles that control breathing and
But the toxin of the spiky fish may also treat chronic
pain, such as that related to chemotherapy. Researchers
at the John Theurer Cancer Centre have found that
the toxin is 3,000 times more potent than the
painkiller morphine, without the crippling side-
effects of addiction and nausea.
So they are testing the tetrodotoxin-based pain
reliever in a small group of cancer patients to ensure
its safety and effectiveness. They will have to compare
its efficacy against that of existing drugs used to treat
chemotherapy pain before the US Food and Drug
Administration will consider it for approval.
The skin of a shark might appear as smooth as
rubber, but up close it s so rough that some cultures
used the skin like sandpaper. Sharklet Technologies,
however, is pioneering a new use for the fearsome
fish s skin, which is constructed of sharp, interlaced
ridges that together make an inhospitable environment
The company is developing medical devices such
as urinary catheters that mimic the texture of shark
skin to ward off common infections from staphy-
lococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus
aureus (MRSA) and pseudomonas aeruginosa.
The catheters could help to reduce the tide of uri-
nary tract infections that plague around a quarter of
all patients who use the devices for a week or more.
One bite of a King Cobra could kill a human, but
that fatal venom could also hold the key to relieving
chronic pain and pain during surgery.
Professor Manjunatha Kini of the National Uni-
versity of Singapore, who is developing the compound,
says that it could be 20 to 200 times more potent
than morphine. Like the pufferfish toxin, though,
King Cobra poison lacks the addictive properties of
that painkiller and others like it currently on the
Within a year, Kini hopes to test the drug in patients.
In recent animal tests, mice receiving the agent were
able to withstand almost twice the thermal pain of
animals that did not take the compound.
Once a tick buries itself in flesh, it spits. And
special properties in its saliva ensure that its food
supply---blood---flows easily without any obstruc-
That could also come in handy for patients whose
vessels are in danger of closing up from clots. So
professor Manjunatha Kini at National University of
Singapore isolated molecules in tick saliva to develop
a potential drug that is 70 times more potent than
From poison to potion:
the natural blood-thinning
agent found in a human
body. The drug has per-
formed well in animal test-
ing so far, but still has more
than a year of additional research before it will be
ready to test in people. (time.com)
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
Toxins turned into
...the toxin of the
spiky fish may also
treat chronic pain,
such as that
Researchers at the
Cancer Centre have
found that the
toxin is 3,000
times more potent
than the painkiller
the crippling side-
effects of addiction
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