Cure Cancer With Snake Venom?

Cure Cancer With Snake Venom?

Written by Alex Reid
Posted September 21, 2012

Snake venom has long been known to have many powerful medicinal properties, and has already been used in the development of drugs. The problem is that it is usually too lethal for human consumption. However, a new study published in Nature Communications reveals that scientists may be able to alter venom into a nonpoisonous state to be used in drugs for the treatment of major ailments like diabetes and cancer.

After close analysis of the way venom is produced in snakes' bodies, researchers determined that it evolves from regular cells, and also naturally evolves back into harmless proteins to be used elsewhere in the snakes' bodies.

Our results demonstrate that the evolution of venoms is a really complex process,” said Dr. Nicholas Casewell of Bangor University, “the venom gland of snakes appears to be a melting pot for evolving new functions for molecules, some of which are retained in venom for killing prey, while others go on to serve new functions in other tissues in the body.”

In the past, drug developers have aimed to modify the toxins in venom so that they are safe to use on humans, yet potent enough to have a useful effect. This new research suggests that nature may be able to do the hard work for us, as reptiles are able to make the toxins safe for their own use through natural processes.

The ability to use this harmless venom would prove useful in drugs because “many snake venom toxins target the same physiological pathways that doctors would like to target to treat a variety of medical conditions,” said Dr. Wolfgang Wustor, also of Bangor University.

Dr. Gavin Huttley of the Australian National University said the snake's venom gland is “like a small drug company, running huge numbers of experiments on evolutionary timescales with new molecules and seeing what works...It's just another arsenal to provide opportunities to target human diseases that we really want to fix.” Diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer to name a few.

Dr. Casewell adds that this would provide a “whole new source” for drug discovery.