Brazilian yellow scorpion
The Brazilian yellow scorpion causes more than 1.2 million cases of envenomation every year, but researchers may be able to stop the symptoms with anti-inflammatoriesDr. Arantes, Universidade de São Paulo

Scorpion venom could be rendered less poisonous by using everyday anti-inflammatories, say researchers from the University of São Paulo. They discovered that the inflammatory effects of lethal venom from the Brazilian yellow scorpion could be contained in mice by administering drugs commonly prescribed by doctors.

Lúcia Helena Faccioli, researcher working on the study, told IBTimes UK they hope to begin human trials very shortly: "First, I have to wait for the approval of the Ethical Committee for Human Investigation. We applied last December, and as soon as they approve, we'll start investigating. It will take three to four months [to complete trials]."

The Brazilian yellow scorpion – Tityus serrulatus – has a venomous sting which can cause multiple organ failure, severe local pain, and lung swelling. Every year 1.2 million people are stung by scorpions, causing more than 3,000 deaths. As it stands, the only treatment is an anti-venom which is not 100% effective and can lead to anaphylaxis – an extreme allergic reaction which can be fatal.

Published in Nature Communications, the study revealed that fatal scorpion venom can be reduced by using common anti-inflammatories. To find these results, the researchers used mice to test the effects of the scorpion venom against non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs s – namely, indomethacin and celecoxib.

The venom was collected from the scorpions by "electric stimulation" and then dried to form a grey powder, which can be injected. Mice aged between six to eight-weeks-old were given the venom. The scientists noticed that only some of the mice began to show symptoms of envenomation.

This was because some were deficient in a particular enzyme, 5-lipoxygenase, which is used to break down the venom. These mice eventually showed signs of enhanced lung oedema – lung swelling – and large grouping of white blood cells, eventually leading to their demise.

After noticing this inflammation in their lungs, the researchers used common anti-inflammatories to try and combat the venom. They used indomethacin and celecoxib to nullify the swelling response – effectively finding a possibly new treatment.

"Given the fact that many non-steroidal drugs are safe to use in humans, we anticipate that therapeutic strategies would be effective," said the researchers.

More about venomous animals