Scorpion venom could help treat rheumatoid arthritis, study says

Suffer from rheumatoid arthritis? Scorpions may be able to alleviate the aches, according to a new report.

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Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine recently conducted an experiment, published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, to determine how to better target the disease.

They first identified one of the major causes of the illness, which are cells called fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS). They produce products that damage the joints and trigger immune cells that cause inflammation and pain. FLS also have potassium channels that promote the growth and spread of those cells.

"We wanted to find a way to block the channel to stop the cells damaging the joints," lead author Christine Beeton said in a statement.

To do so, they observed a component of the scorpion venom called iberiotoxin, which blocks the potassium channel of FLS without affecting the nervous system.

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They test the venom on rats with arthritis by injecting them with iberiotoxin, and they found they were able to halt the progression of the condition. For some of their cases, they were even able to reverse symptoms, because some of the animals had better joint mobility and less inflammation.

"It was very exciting to see that iberiotoxin is very specific for the potassium channel in FLS and that it did not seem to affect the channels in other types of cells, which might explain the lack of tremors and incontinence," coauthor Mark Tanner said.

The scientists noted they have yet to try their methods on humans, but they plan to continue their investigation to make a suitable version for adults with arthritis: "We think that this venom component, iberiotoxin, can become the basis for developing a new treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in the future."

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