Tag Archives: toxin

Anthrax as a secret weapon to kill cancer?

pixabay petri dishBacillus anthracis, commonly known as anthrax, is extremely efficient at injecting its toxin into host cells. This characteristic is part of the reason that live Bacillus anthracis is handled at high biosafety levels in the laboratory. But it also prompted researchers at MIT to consider ways to use anthrax’s efficient delivery method to their advantage. The result? A new potential drug delivery method for cancer treatments!

Antibody mimics can disrupt protein interactions inside cells- including cancer-causing proteins. But getting them there is the challenge. Researchers used a component of the anthrax toxin to carry them. But this time, instead of injecting anthrax toxin into cells, the antibody mimics were injected. And it worked! The next step in this research is to attempt to translate it into animal models. Hopefully, this research will move forward and prove to be successful enough in animals to start human clinical trials! Read about it here.

This isn’t the first time researchers have used the Trojan horse approach in disease treatment research. Read about a similar method used in Alzheimer’s research here.

 

Spiders and erectile dysfunction: a reason to get excited!

google free brazilian wandering spiderFor most people, the sight of a spider isn’t cause for good news. Instead, these eight-legged creatures often bring out the worst in people, causing voices to jump up an octave or two. So it may be surprising that a poisonous spider would prompt excitement from anyone other than a dedicated entomologist. But actually, patients with erectile dysfunction may be pretty excited about the prospects of clinical applications for a particular spider’s venom!

The Brazilian Wandering Spider may be the world’s most toxic spider. With a leg-span of up to five inches, and a deadly neurotoxin on board, this spider is definitely one for your nightmares.

If a man is bitten, one side effect can be a painful erection that lasts for hours, potentially causing permanent damage. But researchers investigated further and extracted a particular toxin (PnTx2-6) from the venom. They found that it increases the availability of nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow. In rats with erectile dysfunction, researchers saw promising results!

As the toxin works differently than erectile dysfunction drugs that are on the market today, it’s possible that therapies using this toxin could be effective treatments for erectile dysfunction in patients that haven’t responded to conventional therapies. This isn’t the first time scientists have looked towards venomous animals to provide inspiration for human therapies- read more about tarantula and centipede venom as pain medications, and snake venom for cancer treatments and possible treatments for heart disease. It will be interesting to see if spider venom can help human patients with ED- stay tuned for more research!

Sea otters helped by artificial clams

iStock_000032380552SmallIn the last five years, 24 sea otters have stranded and died in the Monterey Bay area. Veterinarians noticed a strange yellow coloration to the animals, so they performed necropsies and determined that the cause of death was something pretty unexpected- microcystin.

Microcystin is a cyanotoxin produced by algae, and because it’s generally found in freshwater, deaths in ocean mammals are particularly troubling. Investigation led researchers to a nearby freshwater lake, where they used ‘artificial clams’- small bags of polystyrene beads- to give them some answers. The bags can be left in the water for periods of time, and much like real clams, they passively absorb toxins. Later, they can be analyzed to determine toxin levels over a period of time.

Researchers confirmed that the lake was the source of the problem. They found that a combination of natural phosphorous in the underlying rock combined with chemical runoff from local agriculture created the perfect environment for the algae that produces microcystins. When the lake water fed into the ocean, invertebrates such as clams and mussels in the ocean collected the toxin and concentrated it. When sea otters fed on the toxic clams, they were slowly poisoned.

They’ve found the source, but now it’s a question of how to address it. Researchers are working on potential treatments for microcystin poisoning (with the help of rats!), and hopefully, this will lead to treatments that can help marine animals as well as humans.

http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/39864/title/Sea-Otter-s-Scourge/

Family dog saved… by rats!

Levi by Lake JacksonAnnabelle, an Australian Shepherd, was spending time with her family at a Montana lake when disaster struck. As they were heading to the shore, Annabelle jumped out of the boat, swam to shore, and in the process of drying off, she licked her wet fur. This is a pretty normal thing for a dog to do, but this time, it almost turned deadly. 

When fertilizers or other organic nutrients enter lakes and streams, it can result in large blooms of blue-green algae called cyanobacteria. Unfortunately, cyanobacteria living in this particular lake had produced a liver toxin called microcystin, and after Annabelle ingested it, she quickly became sick. Her veterinarian rushed to find something that could save her life.

Cholestyramine, a drug that had worked against this type of poisoning in rats, was suggested. It had never been tested in dogs, but Annabelle had no other option- without some type of treatment, she would die.

After her vet administered the drug, Annabelle started improving the very next day! Researchers hope that results in one species will give them an indication of the way other species will react to the same drug or treatment. Fortunately for Annabelle, this was a case where rats and dogs had the same type of reaction to this particular treatment, and without those rats, Annabelle wouldn’t have survived. Read more about it here:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39760/title/Dog-s-Worst-Friend/