[stag_intro]A well-known Sanskrit hymn in Hinduism tells us that we should love “all creatures, great and small”. Loving some of the smaller creatures on Earth – particularly the creepy-crawly kind – can prove a little challenging.[/stag_intro] So many of us have a fear of spiders, for example, that it sits in the top 10 list of phobias worldwide. But maybe this Spotlight will evoke a little warmth toward the beasts; we look at the surprising ways in which spiders and some other creepy critters are benefiting human health; a whopping 700 million people are benefited around the world a year.
“None of God’s creatures absolutely considered are in their own nature contemptible; the meanest fly, the poorest insect has its use and virtue.” – Mary Astell – a 17th century English philosopher.And it seems this may be true in relation to the medical world.
Housefly – Opening Doors to Fight PathogensComparing the DNA of the housefly with that of the fruit fly – which shares almost 60% of human genes – a scientists team identified genes that make houseflies immune to the pathogens they carry, potentially bringing us closer to new treatments for human illnesses. The housefly genome provides a rich resource for enabling work on innovative methods of insect control, for understanding the mechanisms of insecticide resistance, genetic adaptation to high pathogen loads, and for exploring the basic biology of this important pest.
Spiders: Relieving Pain and Aepairing Nerve DamageFrom screening the venom out of 205 species of spider species, researchers from The University of Queensland in Australia, discovered that 40% of these venoms, contained at least one compound that has the ability to block a pathway involved in chronic pain in humans, called Nav1.7. One particular compound that showed promise – called Hd1a – was identified in a species of spider called Haplopelma doriae – a member of the tarantula family. In addition, Spider silk – the protein fiber that the creatures use to make their webs – may be useful for treating nerve damage in human. Spider silk is an extremely durable fiber, with one study claiming it is five times stronger than steel. The Hannover researchers believe its high durability makes spider silk a promising candidate for reconstructive nerve surgery, with the technique already proving successful in animal models.
Bees: Helping to Fight Antibiotic Resistance and Treat HIVA study published in Antiviral Therapy, in which researchers revealed how a toxin found in bee venom – melittin – has the potential to destroy human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Melittin is able to make holes in the protective, double-layered membrane that surrounds the HIV virus. Delivering high levels of the toxin to the virus via nanoparticles could be an effective way to kill it. In places where HIV is rampant, people could use this gel as a running preventive measure to stop the initial infection. A more recent study published in September 2014 claims bees may also be useful for creating a new class of antibiotics. Researchers from the Lund University in Sweden discovered lactic acid bacteria in fresh honey found in the stomachs of bees is effective against a number of drug-resistant pathogens responsible for potentially life-threatening infections). (link for article)
Scorpions: Helping to Treat Heart ProblemsAll scorpions are venomous, though only 25-30 species possess venom that is toxic enough to cause severe illness in humans. But while their venom can cause heart problems, you may be surprised to learn that it could also treat them.
While a scorpion’s venom can cause heart problems, researchers have found it could also treat them.A study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health found that compounds in the venom of the African Emperor scorpion, or Pandinus imperator, may be effective for the treatment of heart failure. The researchers found that the compounds, alled calcins, activate the release of calcium in human heart cells, allowing better heart muscle contraction – something that is limited in patients with heart failure. Another study identified a compound in the venom of the Central American bark scorpion – a species commonly kept as a pet – that could stop heart bypasses from failing. The study researchers – from the University of Leeds in the UK – explain that the compound, called margatoxin, could prevent neointimal hyperplasia following heart bypass surgery – a common complication that causes blood vessel blockage. Margatoxin works by blocking a potassium ion channel called Kv1.3, which is involved in neointimal hyperplasia.
This is a good example of a substance that is dangerous in its natural form – a scorpion sting, having potential medicinal benefits if used appropriately.
Frogs: Aiding the Fight Against CancerResearchers from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland that revealed the discovery of two proteins in the skin of the Waxy Monkey Frog and the Giant Firebellied Toad that can disrupt angiogenesis, or new blood vessel growth. The researchers explain that cancer tumors develop their own blood supply, fueling themselves with oxygen and nutrients to help them grow. A protein that can switch off blood vessel growth means tumors would be unable to fuel themselves, meaning they would stop growing.
“Stopping the blood vessels from growing will make the tumor less likely to spread and may eventually kill it. This has the potential to transform cancer from a terminal illness into a chronic condition,” says study author Prof. Chris Shaw.
Reptiles: Helping to Manage and Treat DiabetesResearchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine revealed how exenatide – a synthetic form of a compound found in the saliva of the Gila monster, called exendin-4 may help people with diabetes control their condition and lose weight.
A synthetic form of a compound found in the saliva of the Gila monster – called exendin-4 – may help people with diabetes control their condition and lose weightThe compound works by causing the pancreas to produce more insulin when blood sugar is too high. In the study, 46% of patients who were given exenatide in combination with diabetes drug metformin had good control of their blood sugar, compared with only 13% of control participants. Researcher hey found that – although the venoms of Burmese python and garter snake snakes can be harmful to humans – the toxins in them can be changed into harmless molecules that could make effective drugs. It seems that what Mary Astell said is not far from the truth; even “the meanest fly” or “the poorest insect” has its uses. The research and medicine development is going to help a lot of people around the world.