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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Science Note/Sting to the Heart

Air Date: Week of

A Bark Scorpion. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

New research suggests that venom from the Central American bark scorpion can be used in heart bypass surgery to prevent graft failure. Jessica Ilyse Smith reports.


GELLERMAN: Coming up – getting in shape doing what comes naturally. But first, this week’s Note on Emerging Science from Jessica Ilyse Smith.


SMITH: Scorpion stings can be life-threatening. But new research suggests that venom from the Central American Bark Scorpion may save lives by reducing heart bypass failure.

During bypass surgery, a vein is grafted into the heart. Sometimes, the body’s healing response kicks in and creates new cell growth in the vein. This growth can restrict blood flow and is the most common cause of graft failure. To prevent this, researchers have turned to an ingredient in the Bark Scorpion’s venom: margatoxin.

A Bark Scorpion. (Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

Scientists believe margatoxin is 100 times better than any other known compound at preventing bypass grafts from failing. Just a few molecules of the toxin obstruct the movement of calcium ions, which carry messages between cells. Stopping these messages can prevent unwanted cells from growing.

The new medication containing margatoxin is unlikely to take the form of a pill or a shot, but may be sprayed onto the vein before surgery. Scientists aren’t yet sure of the treatment’s long-term success. But we do know there’s more to this Bark Scorpion’s sting than we once thought. That’s this week’s note on emerging science, I’m Jessica Ilyse Smith.



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