The venom of the stonefish is among the most deadly of any sea creature – but X-ray analysis of its complex atomic structure suggests that it could help save the lives of transplant patients. The fish lives in the Indo-Pacific region and protects itself with razor sharp spines containing stonustoxin – a poison that turns out to be an ancient relative of perforin, a human immune protein that attaches itself to diseased cells and kills them by making holes in the surface. The downside of perforin is that it also attacks cells of transplanted tissue – for example, up to one in three bone marrow transplant therapies for leukaemia fails because of the immune response. Studying stonustoxin is providing insights into how perforin-like proteins assemble themselves to puncture cells – helping scientists to develop immunosuppressants that inhibit perforin and improve the success rate of transplant therapies.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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