Scorpion Venom as RA Treatment?

No, sitting still while a scorpion stings you is not required.

Whew! That was the first thing I envisioned when I read that the venom of a scorpion (one of the evilest-looking creatures on Earth, in my opinion) was involved in a possible new treatment for rheumatoid disease/arthritis.

“Huh-uh, not me,” I muttered with feeling beneath my breath. I hate RD, but enduring scorpion stings to treat it just a bit much.

I was intrigued, nonetheless. Scorpion venom? Really? So, bravely donning my mental “ick-armor,” I read further. It turns out that the venom of this malevolent arachnid really may have a positive effect on RD.

Not just any ol’ scorpion will do

According to the journal Escorpius, there are 13 families and 1,750 described species and subspecies of scorpions living today. Just 25 species have venom that can kill a human.

What is iberiotoxin?

Only one of them produces venom that may work on rheumatoid disease, however. Iberiotoxin is a peptide found in the venom of hottentotta tamulus, or Indian red scorpion, a 2.5-to-3.5-inch-long horror found in India and Pakistan, the lowlands of Nepal, and Sri Lanka. If one of these little buggers stings you, you could die within 72 hours.

Separate iberiotoxin from the venom itself, though, and you have a working potassium-channel blocker. Studies have shown that potassium-channel-blockers, in general, are helpful with rheumatoid disease, but they cause a variety of negative side-effects, like tremors and seizures.

Scorpion venom for RA treatment?

How iberiotoxin stops certain RA symptoms

A recent study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston showed that the peptide in the Indian red scorpion’s venom blocks a potassium channel on fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS), a type of cell inside the joints that plays a key role in synovial inflammation and subsequent joint damage. Iberiotoxin does this without affecting the potassium-channels of other cells, however, and does not cause negative side-effects.

In rat models, it stopped rheumatoid disease progression. It also appeared to relieve pain and swelling.

The need for more studies

The Baylor study is promising, but more studies need to be done. Who knows? Perhaps one day the toxin in scorpion venom will spell the end of rheumatoid disease. If that’s the case, I’ll be glad to change my opinion about those evil-looking scorpions.

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