OpinionsEnvironment ConnectionMedicinal drugs from toxins

Medicinal drugs from toxins


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Toxic substances are found in a wide variety of plants and animals. These substances have evolved as chemical defense mechanisms against predation.

However, some predators have, in the course of time, also countered the threat by developing enzyme systems to detoxify these poisons, and actually make use of them as food. So in nature, the race between prey and predators go on and on.

Scientists are now exploring how to turn poisons or toxins in plants and animals into useful medicinal medicines. The common examples are the toxins from venomous snakes, which are injected into large animals to induce the production of antivenins (the antitoxins against venoms).

When a person is bitten by a venomous snake, he is injected with antivenins specific to the group to which the snake belongs. That is why the offending species of snake must be identified by a competent authority before treatment.

For example, the antivenins for bites by the common cobra, which is found in larger islands of the Philippines, are the ones effective against bites of the common cobra. Such antivenins are not effective against bites of pit vipers, another group of venomous snakes in the Philippines.

Now, scientists are exploring further uses of toxins from a wide variety of animals such as cone shells, crabs, spiders, scorpions, wasps, stonefish, toads, snakes, lizards, etc. by studying their chemical properties.

Research in this area requires well-equipped chemical laboratories, as the focus is on identifying specific and active molecular components in venoms and poisons and controlled testing of their effects. Apparently, some progress has been made in developed countries such as the United States and Japan.

In the Philippines, some academic institutions are equipped to make preliminary experiments in the study of poisons and venoms. In collaboration with scientists in advanced countries, some notable discoveries have been made. An example can be cited.

Dr. Lourdes Cruz, a National Scientist at the University of the Philippines Diliman, has discovered some chemical components in cone shell toxin that are potent pain killer. She and another Filipino in the United States have been internationally recognized for their discovery.

This cone shell (Conus geographus) is found in our coral reefs. It is, however, rare at this time because of over-collection. Our own research has documented a couple of non-fatal cases of cone sting in Central Visayas.

From the examples cited, I would like to point out that species known for their poisonous or venomous nature are useful in research and should not be exterminated. Our human judgment that some species are useless is only based on incomplete knowledge of these species. Like us, these species deserve their rightful place on earth.

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