The University of Colima (UCOL) team identified proteins in the venom of the Centruroides tecomanus scorpion that can kill cancerous cells by binding and blocking ion channels expressed on the surface of tumours.
Lead researcher Laura Leticia Valdez Velazquez told Biopharma-Reporter.com “you could use these peptides as medicines” explaining that because the proteins only bind ion channels expressed by cancerous tissue, healthy cells will not be affected.
Valdez and her colleagues from the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) are also researching scorpion venom proteins as potential treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
Rat studies suggest several of the 100 protein molecules identified in scorpion venom bind receptors on dopaminergic neurons and increase dopamine release.
This interaction could eventually be used to moderate levels of the neurotransmitter and treat the degenerative brain disease, however, as Valdez colourfully points out, the research is still at an early stage.
“To treat humans would require finding an appropriate delivery route that allows the peptide to pass the blood brain barrier and reach the brain without having to drill a hole in the skull” she said.
Valdez said the researchers are now looking for partners interested in developing drugs from the venom proteins and suggested that connections made during her participation in the EU 7th Framework programme could prove useful.
Mexico is something of a hub for scorpion-based drug R&D.
Mexico City-based Bioclon Institute exposed animals to venom extracted from scorpions (and various other poisonous species) to stimulate the production of antibodies that can be used to make anti-venoms for the treatment of bits and stings.
In contrast with Bioclon's extraction-based approach, drugs developed as a result of Valdez’s work would be easier on the local scorpion population.
She explained that although the research was prompted by “the great number of scorpions found in Colima…the idea would be to synthesise the proteins using molecular biology tools.”