News of Note—Deploying scorpion venom in treating rheumatoid arthritis; skin bacteria that protects against tumors

How scorpion venom could help RA patients

The Indian red scorpion, or Buthus tamulus, has a toxin in its venom that may have special powers in treating rheumatoid arthritis, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine believe. It’s called iberiotoxin, and it’s promising because it blocks a potassium channel in cells called fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS), which are active in RA, damaging joints and prompting immune cells to cause inflammation. An added benefit of iberiotoxin is that it doesn’t seem to affect other channels or nerve cells, potentially limiting its side effects. The researchers tested the toxin on rat models of RA and observed that the substance stopped the progression of the disease and improved joint mobility. They published their findings in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. (Release)

Bacteria that protect against skin cancer

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have discovered that Staphylococcus epidermidis, bacteria common on healthy skin, kills cancer cells but leaves healthy tissue alone. They made the discovery by tracing the chemical compound 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP), which is emitted by the bacteria, on mice exposed to UV light. Mice with a different strain of the bacteria—one that doesn’t make 6-HAP—formed skin tumors, but those with the protective strain of the bacteria did not. In mouse models of melanoma, infusions of 6-HAP shrunk the tumors by more than half. The research was published in the journal Science Advances. (Release)

Stem cell discovery could aid patients with lung disease

University of Pennsylvania scientists have isolated a group of stem cells in the lung that multiply after respiratory injuries. The cells, which they call alveolar epithelial progenitor (AEP) cells, are normally quiet, but when an injury occurs, they proliferate and differentiate into working lung tissue, they discovered. While observing the cells in mice exposed to the flu virus, they discovered that the stem cells cells respond to two cell-signaling pathways by changing into alveolar cells, which then regenerates the damaged lung tissue. The scientists hope to translate the findings, published in the journal Nature, into treatments for children with bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) or adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Release)