One Good Sting

Scorpion venom may hold secrets for treating human diseases

12-01-2000 // Mark Cheater

Scorpions have used their powerful venom to stun enemies and paralyze prey for eons. But experts have recently found that what harms may also heal. A researcher at the University of California at Irvine has isolated and synthesized an element from scorpion venom that shows promise in suppressing the immune system. The substance, known as TRAM-34, inactivates cells that normally attack foreign objects in the body. "If TRAM-34 proves effective in humans, we think it may be an effective way to keep the immune system from attacking itself in certain diseases or from rejecting transplanted organs," says the researcher, Heike Wulff.

In a separate study, Lourival Possani at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Cuernavaca discovered that scorpion venom contains a toxin that blocks the development of malaria parasites. Possani grafted the gene that creates this toxin, called scorpine, into fruit flies and found that it dramatically reduced the growth of malarial parasites in the flies. Researchers are hoping to do the same thing with mosquitoes, which spread the malaria parasite to humans. If they are successful, the sting of the scorpion could help wipe out one of the most stinging scourges of the Third World.

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