Monday March 19, 2018

World’s first venom database to help find more cures


New York: Data scientists at Columbia University have created the first catalogue of known animal toxins and their physiological effects on humans.

VenomKB, short for Venom Knowledge Base, summarises 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 catalogue 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, an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Columbia.

Tatonetti and colleagues sifted through more than 5000 venom-related studies. They found 42,723 unique mentions of venoms having a specific effect on the body.

The toxic proteins and amino acids known as peptides that make up venom act on cell receptors and ion channels, controlling how cells behave.

By mimicking or altering how these toxins act on specific human cells, researchers can develop drugs that inhibit pain or treat diseases.

About a dozen major drugs have emerged from this strategy so far. For example, the widely used type 2 diabetes drug Byetta is made from the toxin exenatide found in the saliva of the venomous Gila monster lizard native to the Americas.

Another drug, bombesin, uses a toxin found in the skin of the venomous European fire-bellied toad to treat gastrointestinal disorders.

The Malayan pit viper, Gila monster, European fire-bellied toad, and cone snail account for about 18 percent of the 5,117 venom-related studies now catalogued in VenomKB.

Yet there are 10 million or more venomous species that have yet to be studied.

The study appeared the journal Scientific Data.


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Using stem cells may provide a cure for baldness

Using stem cells may provide a cure for baldness
Using stem cells may provide a cure for baldness. wikimedia commons

New York, Jan 3, 2018: In a finding that may provide potential cure for baldness, researchers have used stem cells from mice to develop a skin patch that is complete with hair follicles in a laboratory.

Baldness, a common disease for which a solution has been found.Baldness, a common disease for which a solution has been found.
Baldness, a common disease for which a solution has been found. wikimedia commons

Using the skin model, the scientists developed both the epidermis (upper) and dermis (lower) layers of skin, which grow together in a process that allows hair follicles to form the same way as they would in a mouse’s body.

The novel skin tissue more closely resembles natural hair than existing models and may prove useful for testing drugs, understanding hair growth, and reducing the practice of animal testing, the researchers said.

You can see the organoids with your naked eye, said Karl Koehler, Assistant Professor at the Indiana University.

It looks like a little ball of pocket lint that floats around in the culture medium. The skin develops as a spherical cyst, and then the hair follicles grow outward in all directions, like dandelion seeds.

In the study, published in Cell Reports, Koehler and team originally began using pluripotent stem cells from mice, which can develop into any type of cells in the body, to create organoids — miniature organs in vitro — that model the inner ear.

But they discovered that they were generating skin cells in addition to inner ear tissue. Thus, they decided to coax the cells into sprouting hair follicles.

Moreover, they found that mouse skin organoid technique could be used as a blueprint to generate human skin organoids.

It could be potentially a superior model for testing drugs, or looking at things like the development of skin cancers, within an environment that’s more representative of the in vivo microenvironment, Koehler noted. (IANS)