Toxins found in snake venom could be used to treat diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, according to new research.
Toxins in snake venom could help treat diseases like cancer
The toxins found in snake venom seek out normal biological processes in prey and cause them to stop working, typically targeting the same physiological pathways as many human diseases.
Consequently, toxins have always been of interest to scientists, but their lethalness has consistently posed a problem. Drug developers have had to alter toxins to keep their effectiveness whilst making them safe for use.
Now, researchers from the Australian National University and Bangor University have found that snakes are able to convert their venom toxins back into harmless molecules, a discovery that could have important implications for diseases like cancer.
The scientists have likened a snake’s venom gland to “a small drug company”.
Writing in Nature Communications, the scientists investigated gene sequences from the Burmese python and the Garter snake. Their study of venom and tissue gene sequences in the snakes showed that venom not only evolved from regular cells but could be turned back into harmless proteins.
Gavin Huttley from the Australian National University said understanding how the venom molecule changed form could help scientists develop new drug cures. He said: "It highlights that venom molecules, these things that actually kill us, in fact are just derivatives of normal proteins."
"By studying the molecular events you get an idea about what it takes to make a protein to target those specific physiological functions".
"This is proof-of-principle that an otherwise toxic molecule can be modified to provide benefit to an organism, supporting interest in exploring their pharmaceutical potential," said Huttley.
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