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Venom Medicine.

These creatures could end up in your medicine chest--as wonder drugs.

Brazil's Pit Viper Bothros brazili (BOW-throps bra-ZIL-ee)

How it uses venom: Long, hollow fangs shoot venom into small animals, killing them for food.

Venom wonder chemical: A protein that helps increase blood flow by blocking chemicals that cause veins and vessels to shrink.

Medical use: An FDA-approved drug called captopril (KAP-tuh-pril) helps treat and prevent heart attacks.

How it works the body: Blood vessels shuttle oxygen to the heart. Without enough oxygen, the heart muscle dies. Captopril helps keep blood vessels open.

Adult size: 2 to 2.5 meters (6 to 8 feet)

The Sea Fan Pseudopterogorgia elisabethae (SOO-do-ter-ra-GOR-gi-ah eh-liz-ah-BEE-thay)

How it uses venom: Unlike other poisonous creatures, the sea fan doesn't inject venom into predators. Instead, it relies on its foul taste to avoid being eaten. Over time, other sea creatures have learned to recognize the sea fan as a poisonous meal.

Venom wonder chemicals: Pseudopterosins (sood-o-TEAR-uh-sins)

Medical use: Helps treat conditions that create inflammation (a response to infection or injury), such as sunburn and arthritis. You find sea fan extract in face creams to help prevent sun damage.

How it works in the body:The sea fan extract blocks chemicals that produce redness, inflammation, and swelling.

Adults range from 0.5 m to over 1 m wide (2 to 4 ft).

Funnel Web Spider Hololena curta (hah-loh-LAY-nah CUR-tah)

How it uses venom: As a defense to ward off predators and kill prey

Venom wonder chemical: HF-7

Medical use: May help prevent brain damage caused by short bouts of oxygen loss

How it works in the body: Stimulates the immune system

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Common Honeybee

Hymenoptera apidae (high-men-OP-teh-rah AH-pi-day)

How it uses venom: Unlike most venomous creatures, the honeybee uses its poison only as a defense against attack. Bee stings cause pain and swelling around the sting site.

Venom wonder chemical: The protein, phospholipase (fos-foh-LIE-pase) A, is one of at least 18 active chemicals found in bee venom that cause swelling when people are stung.

Medical use: May help relieve pain from arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

How it works in the body: Venom warms the body, reduces inflammation and boosts the body's immune system. It also stimulates the production of cortisone, a chemical used to treat allergies, inflammation, and tissue diseases in humans.

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Giant Israeli Scorpion Leiurus quinquestriatus (LURE-us quin-ques-tree-AT-us)

How it uses venom: A needle-like tail stinger injects venom into insects like cockroaches, paralyzing their central nervous systems.

Venom wonder chemical: A chemical called chlorotoxin helps cancer drugs find and bind, or stick, to cancer cells in the brain. But in combination with other toxins, chlorotoxin works as a poison to cripple the nervous system and cause muscle cramping, vomiting, and swelling.

Medical use: More than 80,000 people a year are diagnosed with brain cancer. Although not yet tested in humans, chlorotoxin helps kill deadly cancer cells in the brains of mice. Researchers hope to start testing the promising therapy in humans early next year.

How it works in the body: Cancer drugs kill healthy cells as well as cancerous cells. But chlorotoxin acts like a homing device, binding only to cancer-causing cells. By attaching chlorotoxin to anti-cancer drugs, scientists may be able to eradicate deadly cancerous cells.

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Article Details
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Publication:Science World
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 1999
Words:549
Previous Article:Venom: Miracle Medicine?
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