What doesn't kill you could cure you. A growing interest in the therapeutic value of animal venom has led a pair of Columbia University data scientists to create the first catalog of known animal toxins and their physiological effects on humans. VenomKB, short for Venom Knowledge Base, summarizes the results of 5,117 studies in the medical literature describing the use of venom toxins as painkillers and as treatments for diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart failure. Drawn from an automated analysis of the literature, VenomKB documents nearly 42,723 effects on the body. Though modern medicine makes use of only a small fraction of the toxins documented thus far, the researchers hope that the catalog will spur the discovery of new compounds and medical treatments. "With this list, we can take stock of what we know about venoms and their therapeutic effects" said Nicholas Tatonetti, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University Medical Center and a member of the Data Science Institute. "The questions now is: How can we use this information with other databases to discover new compounds and therapies?" Dr. Tatonetti and Joseph Romano, a graduate student, searched on the term "venoms/therapeutic use" in a database of 22 million medical research papers. This produced a list of 5,117 venom-related studies whose results they summarized using a pair of computer algorithms. After cross-referencing toxins and drugs listed under multiple names and correcting other irregularities in the data, they found 42,723 unique mentions of venoms having a specific effect on the body. Their results were published online on November 24, 2015 in a companion study (open-access) to Venom KB in the journal Scientific Data.
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