Could SCORPION venom treat arthritis? Study finds it ‘reverses joint swelling’ and slashes the side effects of steroids

  • Testing on mice, scientists found safer method of delivering steroids to the joints
  • The found protein within scorpion venom that can act as a ‘drug delivery system’
  • It also reversed inflammation without being toxic to healthy tissue 
  • In the UK currently, 10million people suffer with varying forms of arthritis 

Scientists say that scorpion venom could one day be used to treat arthritis. 

A protein within scorpion venom was found to help deliver steroid medication in a safer way, reducing its side effects.  

Testing on mice, the US researchers found the protein reversed joint inflammation but wasn’t toxic to other parts of the body.

The team hope that the findings ‘will help a lot of people,’ proving a ‘safer way’ to treat the some 10million sufferers of arthritic diseases in the UK, and 54million in the US.

 Researchers, from the US, say they hope that the findings ‘will help a lot of people,’ proving a ‘safer way’ to treat the some 10 million sufferers of arthritic diseases in the UK

Dr Jim Olson, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, and the senior scientist in the project, said: ‘For people with multi-joint arthritis, the side effects of controlling the disease can be as bad or worse than the disease itself.

‘Steroids like to go everywhere in the body except where they’re needed most.

‘This is a strategy to improve arthritis relief with minimal systemic side effects.’

While steroids are used to treat inflammation that causes arthritis, they come with dangerous side effects, including weakening of the bones, high blood pressure and increased risk of infections, which is why they cannot be administered for long periods of time. 

The researchers looked at CDPs, a chemically diverse family of proteins found in the venom of scorpions, spiders and snakes.

They found CDPs rapidly accumulated in joint cartilages, including the knees, ankles, hips, shoulders, and spinal discs, when administered on mice.

After analysing 42 CDPs from 20 species, they identified one candidate that accumulated within cartilage tissue in rodents.

The scientists then attached these proteins to triamcinolone acetonide, a steroid treatment for arthritis, and found that it helped concentrate the steroid drug within the cartilage of joints in rats with rheumatoid arthritis.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling. 

The treatment was found to reverse inflammation in the joints without damaging tissues in the thymus and spleen, the two organs often affected by repeated steroid treatments.

Researchers say further studies are required to assess the safety of this drug delivery method in animals over longer periods of time before moving on to human clinical trials.

Emily Girard, staff scientist in Dr Olson’s laboratory and one of the study’s lead authors, said: ‘There is more development to be done, but I hope that this work results in a therapeutic that will help a lot of people.’

The findings are published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Steroids are used to treat a variety of inflammatory diseases and certain conditions, such as systemic vasculitis – inflammation of blood vessels – and myositis inflammation of muscle.

They may also be used selectively to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, or gout. But the side effects can devastating. 

Use of steroids can result in acne, blurred vision, cataracts or glaucoma,easy bruising, difficulty sleeping, high blood pressure, increased appetite, weight gain, increased growth of body hair and insomnia among other conditions. 

The recent findings will be particularly welcomed after it was revealed that injections meant to relieve the pain of osteoarthritis may do more harm than good.  

Thousands have steroid injections to relieve pain and make it easier to walk, but experts warned in October that the jabs may carry a significant risk.

US researchers looked at 459 adults given injections last year for hip and knee osteoarthritis, finding ten per cent had complications in their hips and four per cent in their knees. Eight per cent of those who had the treatment ended up worse off.

Almost nine million Britons have osteoarthritis, caused as the cartilage that protects joints wears away.  


Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the 2 most common types of arthritis.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting nearly 9million people.

It most often develops in adults who are in their mid-40s or older.

It’s also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition.

But it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or be associated with other joint-related conditions, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.

Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder.

This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs called osteophytes.

Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.

The most commonly affected joints are those in the:

  • hands
  • spine
  • knees
  • hips

Rheumatoid arthritis

In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people.

It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are 3 times more likely to be affected than men.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.

The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected.

This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint’s shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down.

People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.

Source: Dailymail

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