The venom of these marine critters provides leads for detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions, researchers said.
Frank Mari, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in Charles E Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, has focused his research on cone snail venom.
"The venom produced by these animals immobilises prey, which can be worms, other snails and fish. The venom is an extraordinary complex mixture of compounds with medicinal properties," Mari said.
The venom components selectively target cells in the body and make them valuable drug leads and powerful molecular tools for understanding the human body's processes, researchers said.
One class of venom components is the alpha-conotoxins, named so because they target nicotinic receptors that are central to a range of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction and lung cancer.
"We investigated in detail how RegIIA interacts with the alpha3 beta4 nicotinic receptors and embarked on engineering new compounds that were more specific toward alpha3 beta4 receptors and not other nicotinic receptors," said Mari.
"Our aim is to open new avenues for cancer and addiction research inspired on compounds from marine animals," Mari added.
The research has been published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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