"Since we started getting some publicity, I've received dozens of e-mails from people all over the world asking me if they can get into clinical trials," said David Craik, a chemist at the University of Queensland in Australia, adding that he's still seeking funding and government approval before trials can begin.
"I've really been overwhelmed with some of the sad stories people have e-mailed," he said. "There's a great need for new treatments."
The new work involves cone snails, ocean-dwelling carnivorous predators that live in tropical waters around the world. A hungry cone snail uses a long, flexible proboscis as a lure and then as a harpoon.
Like a hypodermic needle, the proboscis injects fish, worms and other snails with venom that instantly paralyzes the prey. The venom's power comes from hundreds of thousands of short proteins, called peptides.
Since the 1990s, scientists have studied a few hundred of those peptides, called conotoxins, with the hope of tapping into their powers. So far, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved one synthetic conotoxin, called Prialt, for the treatment of severe and chronic pain. Others are currently in clinical trials.