FROM EARLIEST recorded time animals, plants, sea life, and microbes have been known as sources of drugs beneficial to human health. They still are. But human modification of ecosystems and the resulting loss of species diversity threaten these resources.
Therapeutically useful agents have recently been developed from natural sources:
An antiplatelet drug based on a snake venom that is shortly to become available to physicians;
A compound derived from the venom of a sea snail that is currently in extended clinical trials as an agent for the relief of chronic pain;
An alkaloid secreted in the skin of frogs that is in early clinical trials as another analgesic.
Conus purpurascens, the purple cone, one of hundreds of species of venomous cone snails found in tropical waters, extends its proboscis as it prepares to sting its prey. Synthetic copies of the snails' complex venom are being studied as analgesics. (Photo credit: Baldomero M. Olivera, PhD, and Nature)
Echis carinatus, the saw-scaled viper, found in Africa, poisons with venom containing a clot-preventing protein. A similar synthesized protein may be used to treat cardiac ischemic syndrome. (Photo credit: Merck & Co, Inc)
Epipedobates tricolor, the Ecuadoran frog from whose skin scientists have isolated the alkoloid epibatidine, leading to a new synthetic analgesic. (Photo credit: John W. Daly, PhD)
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