Natural Mysteries, yet to be tapped in Drug Discovery and Delivery


Editorial, Dec 2014 issue

““ Natural products may be obtained from terrestrial and marine plants, microorganism, vertebrates or invertebrates. Most of the times hint emanates from close observation, serendipity or accidental outcome.

In drug discovery one thing is for sure, nature will always play a crucial role that to in a direct way. Almost all the pharmacotherapeutic agents, available in commerce, find their root and route in natural sources. There are endless examples of such drug molecule like Exenatide, Taxol etc. In the years to come, situation won’t change radically. Andaman Nicobar Island, Amazon forest, Pachmadi forest and many other unchartered territories are yet to be explored for natural flora and fauna, let alone for drug discovery. Natural products may be obtained from terrestrial and marine plants, microorganism, vertebrates or invertebrates. Most of the times hint emanates from close observation, serendipity or accidental outcome. Article you are reading descries some latest miracle of the nature which may be explored and studied from view point of drug discovery and delivery. Three reports of such incidences (entry and removal of spider in living human being, parthogenesis in snake and loss of senses after consuming improperly cooked puffer fish) are being shared for you. A light has been thrown on their relevance in drug development. 

1. Fatal symptoms after consuming dish made from Puffer fish

October, this year in Brazil, eleven members of a family were rushed to medical centre, when they consumed delicacies made out of improperly cooked puffer fish. The fish was presented to souza family of Rio De Janerio by a family pal (from the Brazilian coast). Life threatening symptoms were seen in family members. They vomited (within seconds) before complaining loss of sensation. They lost feeling in their face, arms and legs. These happened because of toxic symptoms of pufferfish toxin, which is 1200 times more lethal than cyanide. It is reported that a drop of this rare chemical can claim lives in 24 hours. Pufferfish, or "fugu", is a dish in Japan. It is strictly controlled and highly trained chefs who have undergone three years training, qualify to prepare a meal featuring this deadly fish.

Pufferfish are generally known as second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog. Internal organs, such as liver, and sometimes the skin, contain lethal chemical tetrodotoxin, nevertheless, the meat of some species is considered a delicacy in Japan, Korea and China. Not all puffers are necessarily poisonous e. g. Takifugu oblongus.

2. Spider found its way in body through a scratch on the body and ear
Medical staff at Bali International Medical Centre found that a spider had burrowed itself into Dylan Thomas’s skin through a scratch from where his appendix had been removed. This young chap reported that he woke up on Saturday morning just to find a 2-inch red trail rising up from his stomach. As per the Facebook post of the victim “Well after running tests and putting things inside my stomach they (medical staff) finally found out it was a tropical spider that's been living inside of me for the last 3 days, managed to get it out luckily. Haven't felt so violated in my life before! Just glad it's all over.” Though a number of scientists in Perth have now cast doubt on this episode (mite may be responsible instead of spider), but for now it has started discussion on such incidences. 

Another not-so-common incidence was reported by British pop star Katie Melua. After hearing an uncommon noise in her ear for almost a week when she resorted to medical aid; it has been revealed that a spider is resting in her ear. As per the singer “when I used an old pair of in-ear monitors to block sound during a flight, little spider must have been in them”. A spokesperson for Melua told BBC News, “The ear specialist said he’d never in his career taken out a live bug before. Plenty of dead ones. When it was out, it was pretty tiny.” (Below image; right)

3. Virgin birth
Louisville Zoo in Kentucky has seen an unusual phenomenon. An 11-year-old python(Thelma) delivered six female June 2012 without mating with male counterpart. No male had ever approached near this reptile, weighing and measuring 91-kilogram and 6 meters respectively. This process of reproduction, where mating is not involved, is called virgin birth or parthenogenesis. It is a form of asexual reproduction in which growth and nurturing of embryos occur without fertilization. In animals, parthenogenesis means development of an embryo from an unfertilized egg cell. May be called phenomenon of becoming sole parent, parthenogenesis has also been seen earlier in other reptiles, avian and few other species, but this is first time that reticulated python has undergone this unknown mystery. It has been read that virgin birth happens when polar bodies, or cells produced with an animal's egg that normally die or disappear, behave like male gametes and fuse with the egg. Virgin birth is still puzzling scientific community, though geographic isolation from males and captivity may have a clue for this. Is it a breakthrough in evolution?

Though all these three strange came to fore in October 2014 (when general public read about these either in print or electronic media) but these have a potential to address some of the medical mysteries or impossibilities of medical sciences in the years to come for many years.

Spider has been reported to enter in human body earlier also; strange is the fact that it found frolicking in the subjects’ body and when it was removed it was still alive. Can this feature be used to deliver drugs in particular organ or is that possible to use such creatures for diagnostic assignment as perhaps there is no reports of dangers once spider finds entry in human body for its accidental voyage.

Fish toxins are already studied for various potential effects in human ailments and this recent case of puffer fish has further corroborated the fact that potent toxins may be explored for certain neurodegenerative disorders. This is again intriguing that A puffer's neurotoxin is not necessarily as toxic to other animals as it is to humans.

Final example is of virgin birth; no need to say there are hundred of cases of childless couples world over owing to such common reasons as infertility issues arising from sperm count or removal of uterus and other reasons. This parthogenesis may be explored in humans too. Can it ?

- Amit Gangwal