Cone snails have inspired humans for centuries. Presently, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are finding these deadly predators inspiring, too, as they seek new ways to cure old medical problems using the poisonous snails as models.

In the present study, RNA and the associated proteins at work inside marine animals were analyzed. As technology has improved over the years, it’s become better able to examine, analyze and catalog the molecules at work in some of the ocean's lesser-known creatures, including cone snails.

Presently, researchers made several significant discoveries about their venom, discoveries that might ultimately lead to the development of new medicines for hard-to-treat diseases. By imitating the way that these small, quiet creatures deliver poison, scientists may be able to better deliver cures.

A total of 60 cone snails that lived in the lab for the past 15 years, were used in the research. Once a week, make a kind of delicate negotiation with them, trading a dead fish for a dose of poison to be gathered in a tube and stored away for use in ongoing scientific measurements and investigations.

"Cone snails are so unusual, it’s almost an extraterrestrial. But that's also fun. The cone snail system is like a candy store to someone like me."

These cone snails could be used to create new medicines that move through a patient's body in a quicker and more efficient manner (new types of insulin, neurological diseases cure). Some think venom research can provide new delivery systems for drugs that would aim to curtail quick-spreading forms of cancer.

Others want to use the venom's ingredients for the treatment of addiction. One component of cone snail venom has even been used in anti-wrinkle creams now on the market that put the power of inflammation to work under the skin, puffing out creases and fine lines on human faces.

For a paper just published in Scientific Reports, the team used cone snail toxins as molecular probes to identify an important overlap between the immune and central nervous systems in humans. Their work demonstrated for the first time that a classic toxin — one usually associated with the central nervous system — can also have an impact on the immune system.

For another study published recently in the Journal of Proteomics; the team worked on the isolation and characterization of an enzyme in the cone snail venom called Conohyal-P1. They used an ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometer, one of the most powerful tools available to identify and count proteins in a sample.

In a third paper, published recently in the journal Neuropharmacology, the team evaluated toxins in the cone snail venom by testing them on the central nervous systems of fruit flies.

The venom is incredibly complex, and they did not know which parts could be used as medicine. In this case, they found that the flies' response to injections of cone snail venom primarily took place in the receptors that govern muscle movement and addiction.

Such details could be useful in the development of new drugs for Parkinson's disease, which often ravages the muscular-skeletal system, impairing a patient's ability to control basic body movements. It might also help with the development of effective nicotine addiction treatments.