Can Australian scorpion venom actually be used for pain management? Scientists from Queensland University, Canada's Dalhousie University and Portugal's Universidade do Porto think so after studying the venom of Australian scorpions and discovering that it might be an effective painkiller. The study is entitled "Evolution Stings: The Origin and Diversification of Scorpion Toxin Peptide Scaffolds."
The researchers, led by Professor Bryan G. Fry of the University of Queensland's School of Biological Sciences, reportedly caught and milked 1,500 Australian scorpions including black rock scorpions, marbled scorpions and wood scorpions from Victoria. They examined the chemical composition of the venom from the different types of scorpions, including buthid and non-buthid representatives (Buthidae is the largest family of scorpions, with over 800 species and about 80 genera as of mid-2008), and found distinctive compounds with unique sequence and structure that may be used in drugs that manage pain.
Each of the scorpion species' venom was found to work in a different way. The venom that was obtained from the scorpions had a variety of molecule combinations (up to 300-400 molecules in each venom type).
They discovered that Australian scorpion venom can identify pain receptors in humans.
''If we can understand how they are causing the pain we can use it to treat pain,'' Professor Fry said in a report from the Sydney Morning Herald.
They also found out that the scorpions must come from Australia for the venom to be effective in killing or at least managing pain.
''Because they have been isolated in Australia for so long, their venom is very different to the venom that has been intensively studied for scorpions elsewhere in the world, making them very novel bio-resources,'' said Professor Fry in a report from the Sydney Morning Herald.
This is exciting news because up until now, no extensive research has been made about the possibilities of using scorpion venom in medicine. Because of the scientists' discovery about Australian scorpion venom and its ability to identify pain receptors in humans, pain management drugs may be developed to bind to the specific area, thereby alleviating pain.
The unique compounds found in Australian scorpion venom can not only be used in human drugs, but also in agriculture. Professor Fry mentioned that it might be used in insecticides.
The "Evolution Stings: The Origin and Diversification of Scorpion Toxin Peptide Scaffolds" study was published in the Toxins journal on Dec. 13, 2013 in the "Evolution of Venom Systems" issue. It can be found on the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) Web site, which is a publisher of open access and peer-reviewed journals since 1996. Aside from Professor Brian G. Fry, the other researchers in the Australian scorpion venom study are Ivan Koludarov, Kartik Sunagar, Sergio A. Muñoz-Gómez, Angelo H. C. Chan, Agostinho Antunes and Eivind A. B. Undheim.