Can Scorpion Venom Help Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?
What Treatments Exist for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have to come to terms with the daunting realization that there is no cure for this disease. Treatment for RA revolves around managing the symptoms, controlling the pain and the inflammatory response. Experts recommend that reducing the inflammation also helps prevent any further damage to the joints/organs. Keeping this in mind, some of the common treatment options for RA include:
- Home remedies or alternative remedies
- Dietary changes
- Medication (over-the-counter or prescribed or both)
- Specially designed exercises to allow the joints to move freely
Medications used for treating RA work by reducing the pain and inflammation. Some drugs also help to manage the flare-ups and prevent further damage to your joints. Some of the medications used for reducing pain and inflammation include:
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Medications that limit the damage caused to your joints include:
- Biologics that block the body's immune response
- DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) that also block the body's immune response and slows down the progression of the disease
Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that block targeted immune responses to stop joint damage and also reduce or prevent inflammation altogether
Can Scorpion Venom help treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?
While it sure does sound downright scary, scientists are hailing this new study that shows that scorpion venom can actually halt the symptoms of RA and also reverse these symptoms in many cases. However, a note of caution needs to be inserted - the study was performed on rats only and its effect on humans may or may not be the same.
Published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the study has been conducted by Christine Beeton of the Baylor College of Medicine and other researchers. The team reports that they discovered that one particular compound in scorpion venom could reduce the severity of RA symptoms in rats. In some cases, the compound successfully even reversed damage caused by the disease. The study also showed that there were much lesser side effects from scorpion venom as compared to other types of treatment used for RA.
How Does Scorpion Venom Work?
The compound iberiotoxin present in the venom of the Indian red scorpion has shown to stop the progression of RA in rats. In order to understand how the compound works, we need to first understand the manner in which RA attacks the body's immune system. As mentioned above, RA is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack the bones and joints of the body. In RA, cells in the body known as fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) play a big role in the progression of the disease. Once these FLS cells start to grow, they move from one joint to another, secreting products that are damaging to the joints. These secretions also attract the immune cells that cause pain and inflammation to these joints, thus causing joint pains and inflammation. As the disease advances, these affected joints start becoming swollen or enlarged, eventually rendering them unable to move.
The study identified a potassium medium pm the FLS cells in patients who are suffering from RA and discovered that the medium was actually crucial for not just the development, but also for the progression of the disease. The team then decided to find a manner in which this channel or medium could be blocked, thus stopping these FLS cells from causing damage to the joints.
The role of potassium channels is to allow ion atoms of potassium to freely move in and out of cells. This is required by our body so that it can continue to carry out essential functions. In certain animals such as scorpions and snakes, there is venom present that blocks these potassium channels and the responses associated with these channels. This is how they paralyze and eventually kill their prey.
Scientists have always believed that the manner in which venom works, it might be possible to use venom for medicinal purposes, including treatment of RA.
Eventually, the research team discovered that the compound iberiotoxin in scorpion venom blocks the potassium channel of FLS cells. However, the important factor of this compound was that it did not block the channels in any other important cells in the body.
Continuing to check whether iberiotoxin is capable of specifically blocking the potassium channel of FLS, the research team treated rats with the compound. It was ultimately discovered that iberiotoxin successfully stopped the progression of RA and even reversed the level of the disease in many cases. The treatment also did not present with any serious side effects.
While this one study cannot conclusively promise that scorpion venom will be a successful treatment for RA, it is the first glimmer of hope for RA treatment and has definitely grabbed the attention of many researchers around the world. The results look promising, but further research is still needed before scorpion venom can become a reality for treating RA. There is no doubt that the compound iberiotoxin will now be researched upon further and become a foundation for a novel RA treatment in the coming years.
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