The new issue of Wired has a story about Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist and cancer researcher whose lab is looking into whether a scorpion-venom concoction can help detect cancer cells in our bodies. Injecting our bodies with scorpion venom may sound somewhat outlandish, but it’s been used in medicine for quite a long time:

Ancient practitioners of medicine were well aware that scorpion venom could heal as well as harm. In imperial China, for example, the cloudy fluid was used to treat ailments ranging from mumps to tetanus. And in certain rural corners of India, whole scorpions were dipped in mustard oil and then rubbed on arthritic joints. Scorpion venom has more recently become an object of fascination for developers of pesticides, who dream of protecting crops using the neuro­toxins that scorpions employ against locusts and beetles.

Today pharmaceutical companies regularly obtain venom for commercial use by milking deathstalkers—that is, jolting the yellow arachnids with electricity, then collecting the droplets that dribble forth from their tails. Courage is an essential trait for the technicians who handle this sort of work, for the deathstalker is among the most dangerous scorpions in the world: In certain instances, L. quinquestriatus venom can cause cardiac arrest.

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