Moroccan researchers design a 'scorpion-milking' device that safely and quickly extracts venom from the glands of the arachnid, with the aim of aiding cancer research. Amy Pollock reports.
Most people wouldn't want to get too close to these deadly creatures. But scorpion venom - which can be fatal to humans - is also used in cancer research and to develop new drugs when broken down to molecular level. And now a Moroccan team has developed a way to extract the secretions quickly and safely. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) RESEARCHER AT BEN M'SIK HASSAN II UNIVERSITY, MOUAD MKAMEL, SAYING: "The machine is called VES-4. What makes it special is that it is safe and fast. If we were able to extract venom from ten scorpions daily in the past, today we can do it with up to 150 of them in a day. This means that the higher the quality and quantity of venom we can get, the better our research and results." The remote controlled 'scorpion-milking' robot straps the scorpion's tail and uses electricity to stimulate the venom glands to release poison, which is then safely stored. The team had to vary the voltage used with different species. (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) RESEARCHER AT BEN M'SIK HASSAN II UNIVERSITY, MOUAD MKAMEL, SAYING: "We had to find the right voltage to use with each species to extract a good quantity of venom without harming the animal. We needed to find the right electrical voltage. Then we had to work on mechanising this operation. It took us two years to make and assemble this machine. The results are very satisfactory." Other methods of extracting the venom risk damaging the venom glands or abdomen of the scorpion. Once the Moroccan team's patent has been approved, they hope to start mass-producing the machine. It could be lucrative - they say a gram of venom sells for around $8000.