Snails may help pain sufferers

By • Published: February 27th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Most Americans think of snails as slimy pests whose tiny lives were made to be stepped on, often with a decisive crunch. In France, snails get a little more respect… when they’re served on a plate in fancy restaurants and bistros.

We may owe snails a big apology.

Scientists say they have found a new way to treat chronic pain from injuries to the nervous system using a cone snail’s venom. Unlike your local landlubbing garden snail, these cone snails live in the sea and their sting can be deadly.

University of Utah researchers studied the effects of two types of snail venom in rats and discovered that both toxins block a molecule in nerve cells that typically relays pain signals.

It’s the first time scientists have shown that this molecule plays a role in how pain spreads through the body.

Researchers say finding treatments for the type of pain described as neuropathic is particularly important because few options available to patients today work well.

Neuropathic pain generally occurs after a patient suffers spinal and brain injuries or other types of nerve damage. Cancer, diabetes, infections and even alcoholism can also cause it. Patients describe the pain as a tingling or burning sensation that doesn’t go away.

One of the venoms is being tested in human patients, but researchers say it could be ten years before a treatment is available to patients.

Maybe by then we’ll have a little more respect for those shell-dwelling pests.