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Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Venom That Heals

"Venom has an amazing amount and variety of toxins, and their effect is really mind-boggling, how many things they can be used for."
"Nature, it has unlimited potential to generate these tricky molecules."
Professor Gergely Lukacs, biochemist, McGill University

"We do not fully understand some conditions. [But] we can learn from these animals, use their products to treat our own problems."
Dr. Heyu Ni, St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto

"Why these molecules have evolved in the venom of one of the deadliest snakes on Earth is unclear. It's possible that Mambalgins [together with other ingredients in the poison] .. help prevent prey from escaping."
Chris Bladen, pharmacologist, University of Calgary
Researchers milk venom from a Southeast Asian viper, which a Toronto study suggests could be used to develop a new clot-busting drug to prevent strokes and heart attacks.
Handout    Researchers milk venom from a Southeast Asian viper, which a Toronto study suggests could be used to develop a new clot-busting drug to prevent strokes and heart attacks

Mr. Bladen refers to a study out of France identifying two peptides from poison extracted from the black Mamba -- considered to be the world's most lethal snake and which have been named Mambalgins by researchers -- having the beneficial effect of curbing pain while at the same time bypassing side effects seen with the use of opioids like morphine in pain therapy, with the byproduct all too often being drug addiction and the tragedies that follow from that.

His own article published in 2013 on this very topic welcomed reptile toxin for its role in pain treatment, particularly that of the black Mamba. Snake poison as a natural antidote to many health problems represents an emerging science. Scientists have recognized viper toxin as an immensely complex substance. Laboratory research and animal-based experiments are in their early stages. One clot-busting drug derived from that source is on the market, to date.

ACE-inhibitor hypertension pills are the product of inspiration by the poison of Brazilian pit vipers, a toxin so powerful that victims are known to instantly drop as a result of plunging blood pressure, in its presence. The function of those toxins in nature are clear enough; they immobilize, paralyze, kill and allow the snakes to digest their prey as meals.

A cystic fibrosis paper recently published by Dr. Lukacs and a team headed by Paris's Institut Pasteur's biochemist Grazyna Faure-Kuzminska, refers to the venom as a "rich source of natural, multi-functional proteins". The discovery that one of those proteins may be useful in the fight against CF appears a breakthrough. Though treatment of the disease over the years has seen improvement in extending the average life expectancy to 50 years, no drug as yet combats the underlying cause of onset.

The researchers are confident that the protein CB, purified from the South American rattlesnake presents a "new and unexpected" capacity to turn about the genetic defect behind cystic fibrosis and to correct the malfunctioning gene to reconvert it back to one that functions properly, reversing the effects of cystic fibrosis. The exciting news is that experiments with snake venom have opened a new way to target CF's genetic origin.

Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg
Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg   A Levantine viper sits in a Latoxan SAS laboratory before the snake's venom is extracted at the company's unit in Valence, France. The company specializes in the production of high-quality venoms and toxins for research and leading pharmaceutical companies

It now appears likely that the snake poison is capable of counteracting the chief genetic mutation linked to the disease. The new branch of biomedical science transforming lethally feared animals into the source of effective medical/health healers holds out huge promise for the future. Researchers certainly will not stop at cystic fibrosis.

The trove of chemicals in a variety of serpent venoms are now seen as potential therapies in a wider field of medical science; heart failure, heart attacks, breast cancer, leukemia, bacterial infection and severe pain management. Dr. Ni of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto has involved himself in the development of promising new drugs for the treatment of blood clots capable of leading to heart attacks and strokes.

And he is doing that with the help of poisonous snakes. The southeast Asian viper is the source of a protein purified to make it an effective tool in curbing clumping of blood platelets. Anfibatide, extracted and purified from the "hundred pacer" (the distance victims achieve before their collapse after being bitten) works in clot breakup without the risk that blood thinners can lead to, of unrestrained bleeding.

In addition, a preliminary study earlier published suggests that chemicals from the blunt-nosed viper's venom curb colon-tumour cell growth. And as well a solution may yet be discovered to the vexing concern over antibiotic-resistant infections with the use of proteins in the poison of Russell's vipers, capable of combating killer bacteria. Ironically, the viper is responsible in India for taking the lives of 46,000 people every year.

Getty Images
Snake venom could be used to treat cystic fibrosis, heart failure, breast cancer, leukemia, bacterial infection and even severe pain, researchers say. Getty images

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