Snail venom for pain

AN experimental drug made from snail venom has shown early signs of promise in numbing pain, raising hopes in the hunt for new, non-addictive medications, say researchers.

The drug, which has not been tested yet on humans, was judged to be about 100 times more potent than morphine or gabapentin, which are currently considered the gold standard for chronic nerve pain.

The active ingredient, conotoxin, comes from carnivorous cone snails, which are common in the western Pacific and Indian Oceans. The marine animals can reach out and stab prey, injecting a venom that paralyses fish long enough for the snail to eat it up.

A tiny protein derived from the snail’s venom has formed the basis of five new experimental compounds, said lead researcher Prof David Craik of the University of Queensland in Australia.

A preliminary study using one of these new compounds on lab rats “appeared to significantly reduce pain”, said a press statement released ahead of Prof Craik’s presentation at an American Chemical Society meeting in Dallas, Texas.

“This is an important incremental step that could serve as the blueprint for the development of a whole new class of drugs capable of relieving one of the most severe forms of chronic pain that is currently very difficult to treat,” he said.

Animal venoms are poisons that can block certain channels in the nervous system, and act differently than opioid painkillers such as morphine and hydrocodone, which carry the risk of addiction and death from overdose.

Pharmaceutical companies have begun investigating venoms in recent years as potential sources of new drugs for managing neuropathic pain, which affects 15% of the US population and can arise from cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and other debilitating diseases.

One conotoxin-derived drug, ziconotide, has already been approved for human use. However, it is not available in pill form and must be infused directly into the lower part of the spinal cord.

The five new compounds Prof Craik and his colleagues are developing would be taken orally. “We don’t know about side effects yet, as it hasn’t been tested in humans. But we think it would be safe,” he said, adding that human trials are at least two years away. – AFP Relaxnews

Google Glass for skin consultations

RHODE Island Hospital in the United States is currently testing out Google Glass in a dermatology study.

Over the next six months, emergency room (ER) patients requiring dermatology work may participate in the study. They’ll be examined by ER doctors wearing a “stripped-down version” of Google Glass that will send images to an off-site dermatologist, who will review the images using a tablet.

The hospital is working with Glass-focused startup Pristine for this pilot study. Their version of Google Glass doesn’t include some of its core functionality and connectivity, nor is the device connected to the Internet.

Rather, it streams live, sending encrypted audio and video information to the receiver directly.

Photos, video and audio aren’t stored in the Pristine version, either.

“It’s every doctor’s nightmare to have a breach or have a video uploaded on YouTube,” Dr Paul Porter, the principal investigator on the study, told MobiHealthNews. “We really put a lot of time in trying to get the best possible conditions for confidentiality, picking a specialty that we thought would be the safest for the patients. In our study, (the Google Glass consultation is) over and above the standard of care, which is a phone call, plus or minus a snapshot.”

Testing began on March 1, and Dr Porter says as soon as the study has 100 participants, he and his team will begin work on a paper.

The device’s potential is currently being tested in other areas of healthcare.

Emotient, a leader in facial expression recognition software, is testing Google Glass with its own app that is said to gauge other people’s feelings. The company says it hopes to apply this concept to healthcare for determining warning signs of illness.

Last month, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), announced its development of a Google Glass app that reads diagnostic test strips.

Should the hospital study be successful, the hope is to use the device in other healthcare applications, including emergency response, paediatric consults and stroke care. – AFP Relaxnews

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Snail venom for pain


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