Snail slime provides novel drug for cancers
Could drugs and ointments made from snails’ slime be the next best treatment for cancers, scars, and skin blemishes, stretch marks? CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.
Until now, the slime of the Giant African Land Snail (GALS) also called African land Tiger snail (Achatina achatina) has been employed by traditional medicine practitioners in the treatment of asthma and hypertension.
The Gastropoda or gastropods, more commonly known as snails and slugs, are a large taxonomic class within the phylum Mollusca. The small grey snail, Cryptomphalus aspersa also called Helix aspersa, is one of the over 20 edible species of snail found in Europe and North America.
Snail meat of these species is known as ‘escargot’ in France; snail meat of GALS is sometimes exported from Africa and sold as ‘escargot achantine.’
GALS also called African land Tiger snails, more specifically the species Achatina achatina, Achatina fulica and Achatina marginata. These belong to the family Achatinidae.
GALS is called katantawa in Hausa, ejula in Ibo, and ilako or isan in Yoruba.
Cone snail venom for pains and cancer
University of Queensland researchers, in the latest study, have discovered thousands of new molecules hidden deep within the venom of the snail, representing promising leads for new drugs to treat pain and cancer.
In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers describe a new method for analyzing the structure of the venom toxins.
“Cone snail venom is known to contain toxins proven to be valuable drug leads,” says Paul Alewood, a professor at the University of Queensland Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
“This study gives the first-ever snapshot of the toxins that exist in the venom of a single cone snail. Cone snail venoms are a complex cocktail of many chemicals and most of these toxins have been overlooked in the past.”
Using a new method that involved accurately measuring and analyzing the structure, activity, and composition of the diverse range of proteins within venom, researchers discovered the highest number of peptides (mini-proteins) produced in a single cone snail.
“We also discovered six original ‘frameworks’—3D-shaped molecules suitable as drug leads—which we expect will support drug development in the near future,” Alewood says.
There are 25 known frameworks discovered over the past 25 years, many of which have already led to a drug or drug lead for several diseases.
“We expect these newly discovered frameworks will also lead to new medications, which can be used to treat pain, cancer, and a range of other diseases.”
The cone snail species studied by the researchers, Conus episcopatus, is found along the east coast of Australia and is one of 700 different species of cone snails.
“We anticipate there are a lot more interesting molecules to be found in the venom of other species, and we are keen to explore these using our new approach, Alewood says.
“This new method of analysis can also be used in research on other animal venoms, or in related fields, such as studying protein expression from cells. It will help us gain a better understanding of biology, look for disease patterns, or discover potential new drugs.”
Cone snails shoot venom-tipped harpoons into their prey, such as fish, immobilising them long enough for the mollusk to consume them. They have been responsible for serious injuries and some fatalities in humans.
The species studied by the researchers (Conus episcopatus) is found along the east coast of Australia and is one of 700 species of cone snails.
“We anticipate there are a lot more interesting molecules to be found in the venom of other species, and we are keen to explore these using our new approach,” Alewood said. “This new method of analysis can also be used in research on other venoms.’’
Sea snails hold the key to releasing women from ovarian cancers
Also, research suggests that sea snails hold the key to releasing women from some of the most deadly cancers.
Flinders University researcher Vicki Edwards has discovered a compound, which selectively targets and kills cells in ovarian cancer – one of the most deadly cancers for women.
“These compounds are not at all toxic to mice, so it’s really promising because that’s the hardest thing when you are developing any new drug,” Edwards said.
“This result highlights the potential to develop a new treatment for female reproductive cancers.”
She said a chemist had also synthesised the compound, which she hoped would produce the same results.
Researchers from Michael Okpara University Of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State have studied the nutrient composition of the flesh of GALS (Achatina achatina).
The proximate analysis revealed that the snail sample is a high protein source but low in fat. The analysis for the mineral composition revealed that it has reasonable values of calcium, potassium and sodium. The essential elements such as phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc were also detected.
The calcium/phosphorous (Ca/P) ratio (4.18) is very good. However, the sodium/potassium (Na/K) ratio (1.68) gives room for much concern and especially in the diets of people who are prone to high blood pressure.
Analysis for the vitamin composition revealed that it has appreciable values of vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin. The snail meat is a high protein source and can serve as a suitable substitute for beef and chicken meats, as well as fish, in providing essential nutrients for good health.
Extracts can regenerative skin, providing novel treatment for scars, skin blemishes and skin ageing
An earlier study by Spanish and United States researchers had demonstrated that a cream made from extracts of a European and North American snail (Cryptomphalus aspersa or Helix aspersa) can regenerative the skin, thereby providing novel treatment for scars, skin blemishes and skin ageing.
Indeed, a screen for natural products bearing pharmacological properties has yielded a secretion of the snail (gastropod) Cryptomphalus aspersa, also popularly known as escargot, which possesses skin-regenerative properties.
The report, published in Skin Pharmacology & Physiology, the Journal of the International Society of Pharmacological and Biophysical Research outlines some of the cellular and molecular effects underlying this observation and the secretion’s many benefits for human skin.
The study is titled “Molecular Basis for the regenerative Properties of a Secretion of the Mollusk Cryptomphalus aspersa.”