Research on snail venom could benefit cancer patients

Mar 1, 2023, 6:00 AM
Research on snail venom from the Huntsman Cancer Institute may help cancer patients with pain relie...
Research on snail venom from the Huntsman Cancer Institute may help cancer patients with pain relief. (Canva)

SALT LAKE CITY — Research on snail venom from the Huntsman Cancer Institute may help cancer patients with pain relief.

Dr. Baldomero Olivera with the Huntsman Cancer Institute says poisonous cone snails use their venom to immobilize their prey, fish. Fish have the same molecules as humans, which means scientists were able to use the snail’s venom to create an effective method of pain relief.

“The compound was first verified by undergraduates here at the University of Utah,” Olivera says. “Today it’s [an] FDA-approved drug for pain.”

He says a sensory nerve starts firing to signal pain. The components in the snail venom block a key channel between pain signals that travel from the spinal cord to the brain.

This research surrounds venom peptides that could prevent pain in cancer patients. This would allow doctors to increase the dosage and length of chemotherapy, so it’s much more effective.

While opioids are a common prescription for cancer patients, they can require larger doses and become addictive. Like opioids, peptides are not yet perfect. Olivera warns that peptides can also have side effects.

“So, depending on where the pain is coming from, and things like that, the opioid may be more effective or the peptide may be more effective, depending on the circumstances of what’s causing your pain” he says.

Simone Seikaly and Devin Oldroyd contributed to this story.

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Research on snail venom could benefit cancer patients