Queensland Scientists Discover New Toxins That Could Help Create Box Jellyfish Sting Antivenom

By @JanSSS8 on
IN PHOTO: Curtis Cuba, working his fourth year as an ocean safety officer (lifeguard) in Hawaii, holds up two box jelly fish, July 22, 2003 on Waikiki Beach. The dripping capsules can cause a itchy stinging rash when in contact with skin, even after the jelly fish dies. Two hundred of the gelatinous marine animals were found this morning near the Diamond Head area of Waikiki Beach and site was closed to the public all morning. The box jelly fish are not native to Hawaii and drift in from the open ocean about 10 to 12 days after a full moon, largely in the summer months. They are not fish but belong to a group of animals called coelenterates. Picture taken July 22, 2003. Reuters/Lucy Pemoni

Scientists at Brisbane's QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have discovered new toxins that could help them create an antivenom for the sting of the dreaded box jellyfish (Scientific Name: Cubozoa). These carnivorous invertebrates are known and feared for its venom that can stun or kill its prey. It has several species including the Chironex fleckeri, Malo kingi, Carukia barnesi. Carybdea marsupialis, Carybdea branchi, Copula sivickisi and Chironex yamaguchii.

Humans are not immune to its sting and a lot of its victims are either scarred for life, or have died because they came in contact with the box jellyfish. The only ones who are not affected by its deadly venom are the sea turtles.

Thankfully, the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute's scientists including Dr. Jason Mulvenna and Immunologist Associate Professor John Miles, analysed the toxins of the box jellyfish venom. They discovered some interesting proteins in the venom's composition.

“We discovered that box jellyfish have an abundance of these potent new toxins - along with compounds we already know from other venoms such as snakes and spiders,” Dr. Mulvenna said in a QIMR Berghofer's media release.

Dr. Mulvenna wrote a paper about the box jellyfish venom titled "Transcriptome and venom proteome of the box jellyfish Chironex fleckeri." It was published in the BioMed Central, or BMC Genomics journal on May 27, 2015. Click here to view it on the official website of BMC Genomics.

Associate Professor Miles also said that the stings from the box jellyfish trigger inflammation in the body that makes the venom's movement in it much faster. He said that he and his colleagues at QIMR Berghofer believe that the body's immune system releases a specific class of proteins that enables the rapid inflammatory response.

In a report from ABC, Dr. Mulvenna mentioned that this breakthrough meant that the antivenom could now be developed by scientists.

"This is the easy bit - now we've got to work out what each of these proteins are doing, how it interacts with the body, and how we can abate that effect and help people who've been stung," Dr. Mulvenna said in the ABC report.

However, developing the antivenom for the box jellyfish sting could take a lot time. Dr. Mulvenna cited the reasons why it would be difficult to produce the antivenom immediately. It includes not having a genome. They are currently working on getting one. He estimates that they could probably accomplish their goal of developing the antivenom in five or 10 years.

Aside from working on making an antivenom for the box jellyfish sting, the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute will also try to find out if the venom of the Cubozoa can also be used to trigger the body's immune system in order to fight other diseases like cancer.

For feedback/comments on this article, you may email j.somosot@ibtimes.com.au.

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