The scorpions are not very cherished creatures. The fear they cause is enough to be exterminated without the possibility of thinking of another solution that allows them to survive. Scorpions are undervalued beings.
Science has repeatedly shown that arachnids, in general, are more important than we think. Beyond an aspect that we consider unpleasant to be outside our ideal of beauty, these beings possess interesting and valuable features for science. With its venom many cures for chronic and deadly diseases have been discovered in humans, among them, some advances to fight one condition that kills about 8 million people in the world each year: cancer.
The Rhopalurus junceus (blue scorpion) is more than just a poisonous being endemic to the island of Cuba. It is the protagonist of research currently being carried out to find a cure for breast cancer, a disease that has ended the lives of millions of women in the world.
The Mexican Demetrio Rodríguez Fajardo, at his age of 17 years, found a protein in the venom of this scorpion to treat and cure breast cancer. This finding has earned him numerous recognitions but has also generated numerous controversies, as others affirm that scorpion venom is part of the Cuban homeopathic medicine since long ago.
The Labiofam Cuban drug maker is the creator of the painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug known as Vidatox. This medicine is created from the blue scorpion toxin to improve the health of patients with cancer, helping already more than 65,000 people. The creators claim that it took them 15 years to get the medicine.
Perhaps the difference is that the first Mexican discovery focuses on curing breast cancer, while Cuban medicine specializes in improving the quality of life of patients with various types of cancer by up to 85%. Whether provocative or not, just think that this is a clear advantage to the human health that comes from these arachnids.
In Madison, Wisconsin, new ways have been developed to obtain drugs that treat diseases such as heart failure, where the main component is scorpion venom. They are in advancement with the study of 15 types of these arachnids, finding that the subject scorpion was one of those that behaved favourably in the experiments.
What to do in case of a scorpion sting?
The furnace months are the most apt for the imitation of the scorpions, and in many cities of the world, this can represent a problem, since they appear almost everywhere putting at risk human health.
If you are stung the first thing to do is call or goes to emergencies. There are so many types of scorpions that it can be difficult to identify which one is the responsible and this does not allow us to know its degree of toxicity. If you fail to consider a wound or treating it carelessly or with home medicines can be the difference between life and death.
There are mild symptoms such as itching and tingling. There are common symptoms such as headache, tearing, diarrhoea and muscle pain; but when the venom is potent, seizures, difficulty to breathe, painful erections in men and partial loss of vision, can manifest among other symptoms.
Some of the symptoms appear quickly, while others take a few minutes to develop, which is why the victim should get medical care as soon as possible.
Among all the species of scorpions, nearly 2,000, only about 30 or 40 of them have a poison potent enough to kill a human being, so we can say that only a small percentage is dangerous.
In the advance of new drugs, taking a bit from nature and transforming it has been a successful tactic employed by medicinal chemists for years. Now, with the help of nanotechnology, researchers are turning once-discarded drug candidates into usable drugs.
An expected 40% of clinically accepted drugs drop into the group where either the natural complex itself or a modified version is the approved drug. These include statins (found in bacterial secretions) used to lower cholesterol, quinines (found in cinchona trees) as anti-malaria and paclitaxel (found in yew trees) as anti-cancer medication.
A lot of of these natural yields are toxins produced by plants or animals as a form of defence. And scorpion venom has been gaining interest as a source of new drugs. It comprises a group of chemicals called peptides, some of which are known to trigger cell death by forming pores in biological membranes. Cell loss can be useful if we are able to goal, say, tumour cells to auto-destruct.
These toxins can have very potent effects. For example, one specific small peptide, known as TsAP-1, isolated from the Brazilian yellow scorpion (Tityus serrulatus), has both anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties.
However, harnessing this kind of power for clinical good has so far been challenging because these toxins kill both tumours and healthy cells. One technique to control such toxicity is through using nanotechnology to shape specially made drug-delivery vehicles. If successful, the toxic drug is released to kill only unwanted tissues in a body.
One such effort has been done by Dipanjan Pan at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. In a study published in the journal Chemical Communications, scientists claim to have created spherical capsules to trap scorpion venom toxin TsAP-1. This condensed toxin, named NanoVenin, increases the drug’s effectiveness at killing breast cancer cells by ten times.
This is an interesting development for two reasons. Firstly, the venom toxin in its natural form could not be used due to the lack of specificity and, secondly, the incorporation of the venom toxin in the nanoparticle instigated a large increase in the drug’s potency, making it more clinically useful.
This form of the drug works on breast cancer cells, but it is not disease-specific yet. Researchers can modify its outer shell by, for example, attaching proteins that can make it selective towards certain types of cancers. It can moreover be possible to hide the nanoparticle in a biodegradable layer so as to trap its toxicity until it reaches the diseased area, where the layer degrades to reveal the toxin.
Such precise delivery can work on a “lock-and-key system” of highly precise biological structures. For instance, different types of cancer cells have characteristic secretions or outer proteins – the decomposable level of the drug can be built to identify these particular secretions or proteins and then trigger the degradation process, allowing precise delivery of the drug.
Scorpion Venom Addiction
Stories from the other side of the world have people wondering if scorpion venom is more likely to be abused than people had hoped. It started with a Chinese man, Li Liuqun, who says he is addicted to eating live scorpions. For the past 30 years, he’s eaten over 10,000 of the creatures. When stung by a scorpion years ago, this man said “I was so angry I picked it up and bit its head off. It tasted sweet and nutty and I never looked back. To me, they’re delicious – like fried beans. (1)” It goes beyond a tasty treat for this man, though. He can simply eat 20 or more scorpions at a time, and even yet he does still get stung, the venom no longer affects him. Doctors in his country believe he is now addicted to the venom.
He is not alone. A new craze for youth in India is to purposely get stung by scorpions. It has turned into a profitable clandestine business for dealers on the side of the road between Delhi and Bombay. Clients pay the scorpion owners money to be stung on their hands and feet. The wound is painful, but then users are taken over by a feeling of euphoria, much like a drug high. Sellers of scorpion stings know they have a market that isn’t going to go away for some time. Many of their customers got addicted to the venom and to the thrill of getting stung by a scorpion. More research will need to be done to determine the true addictive qualities of this substance, and how those change when the venom is altered for use.
TIL scorpion venom is the most expensive liquid on earth at $38,858,507.46 per gallon