From cancer treatment to painkillers, here are the agents that may be hazardous materials today but could evolve into powerful medications tomorrow.
Once a tick buries itself in flesh, it spits. And special properties in its saliva ensure that its food supply blood flows easily without any obstructions.
That could also come in handy for patients whose vessels are in danger of closing up from clots. So professor Manjunatha Kini at National University of Singapore isolated molecules in tick saliva to develop a potential drug that is 70 times more potent than the natural blood-thinning agent found in a human body.
The drug has performed well in animal testing so far, but still has more than a year of additional research before it will be ready to test in people.
Sea anemone: Retraining immune cells
Seattle-based biotechnology company Kineta is developing a treatment based on sea anemone toxin for patients with auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis, in which the body's immune cells mistakenly attack its own healthy cells.
The toxin, which the anemones release to discourage predators like lobsters, contains a compound called ShK-186 that affects certain potassium channels in the body. Antibodies that bind to these channels may be responsible for some autoimmune conditions, and targeting just this defect may provide a more effective treatment.
Current therapies often disable more of the immune system, which makes patients vulnerable to other immune-related problems, says Dr. Chuck Magness, Kineta's CEO and president. The drug also appears to regulate metabolism, which means it could possibly play a role in treating obesity.
Currently, the sea anemone toxin-inspired drug is in the first phase of human clinical trials.
Fire-bellied toad: Healing wounds
This poisonous little toad secretes a venom-laced sweat when provoked, but certain proteins in that toxic perspiration may help to heal wounds.
The peptides promote blood vessel growth, says professor Christopher Shaw of the Queen's University at Belfast School of Pharmacy who is studying the toad. A drug using this toxin could minimize the growth of scar tissue by speeding up the healing process.
The potential drug is less than a year away from entering human trials and has already been patented in China and the United States.
Waxy monkey frog: Keeping blood vessels in check
This frog's light-hearted name masks the seriousness of the toxin embedded in its skin.
Last year, a ring of horse owners was busted for doping their racehorses with the toxin that simultaneously made the animals numb and hyperactive.
Used more judiciously, however, the frog's venom could control blood vessel growth, known as venom could control blood vessel growth, known as angiogenesis, which may be useful in starving cancer cells, which may be useful in starving cancer cells.
Some cases of diabetes-related blindness are also caused by out-of-control blood vessel growth, which damages the retina, and rheumatoid arthritis is linked to an explosion of vessels that feed inflamed areas with more disease-causing compounds.
Christopher Shaw of the Queen's University at Belfast School of Pharmacy says that the frog's anti-angiogenic properties could prove useful in treating these diseases, although researchers have to work fast.
Mass extinctions of various frog species threaten to wipe out species such as this one before venoms can be isolated and analyzed.
The waxy monkey frog-based agent should be set for human trials within the year.
Source: Claire Groden