While considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, snails have found a more intriguing use to scientists and the medical profession, offering a number of exciting research possibilities. Cone snails are marine mollusks, just as conch, octopi, and squid, but they capture their prey using venom. The venom of these marine animals provides leads for the detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions. Frank Marí, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in Florida Atlantic University’s (FAU's) Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at FAU, has focused his research on cone snail venom and has published, together with colleagues, a study in the January 9, 2015 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. "The venom produced by these animals immobilizes prey, which can be worms, other snails, and fish," said Dr. Marí. "The venom is an extraordinary complex mixture of compounds with medicinal properties." The venom components selectively target cells in the body and make these components valuable drug leads and powerful molecular tools for understanding the human body's processes. One class of venom components is the alpha-conotoxins, named so because they target nicotinic receptors that are central to a range of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction, and lung cancer. The venom of a particular species of cone snail, Conus regius, collected by the Marí group at the Florida Keys, is particularly rich in alpha conotoxins. Aldo Franco, Ph.D., who worked in Marí's lab, described more than ten new alpha-conotoxins in his Ph.D. dissertation at FAU. Among these, was found RegIIA, a compound that potently blocked the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptor. This particular receptor, when activated, can be associated with lung cancer and nicotine addiction.
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