People with depression, addictions and Parkinson's disease may be benefited by venom from an ocean snail according to researchers at the University of Utah on Monday.
The researchers produced a synthetic version of the toxin which was found to be able to block or stimulate receptors which release chemicals in the brain. The results of the research will be published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
J. Michael McIntosh, professor or biology and psychiatry, said, "A snail is a treasure chest. They have tens of thousands of compounds."
McIntosh who was working with cone-snail researcher Baldomero "Toto" Olivera, found the synthetic version of the venom which can latch onto a brain receptor commonly activated by nicotine during smoking.
He explained that smoking releases dopamine which is a chemical used as a "reward signal" by the brain.
The toxin studied by McIntosh fits certain brain receptors. Therefore he said that it could be used to stimulate dopamine which is absent in people with neurological diseases, and serotonin and norepinephrine in people with mood disorders.
McIntosh said that it could block receptors as well as help people who want to stop smoking or drinking,.
He said, "The aim is to stimulate some receptors but not others." The research revealed that the toxin shows benefits without using the "toxic properties of nicotine."
McIntosh work as an undergraduate, with snail venom, at the university led to Prialt, a drug that is injected into the spinal cord to treat severe pain. It is manufactured by Elan Pharmaceuticals of Ireland.
McIntosh said, "It turns out these snails are very sophisticated in the type of arsenal they've put together to hunt other organisms."
Olivera, a biology professor, was out of the country and unavailable for comment. McIntosh has said that Oliveras interest in snails dates back to his childhood in the Philippines, where he collected shells.
According to McIntosh it could take about 10 to 20 years to develop medicine based on the research, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.