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Snake venom could be source for new drugs

19th September 2012

Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine have suggested that venomous reptiles may provide a good source for new drugs for human diseases.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications the researchers have shown how snakes and lizards have “reclaimed” some toxins and used them safely elsewhere in their own bodies and they now think these could be harnessed to create effective drugs.

The Liverpool team compared the genomes of the venomous reptiles to see how the venom evolved and stumbled across what they say was an “unexpectedly dynamic” process with the venom being formed through evolution and then later being adopted by parts of the body for other uses.

Liverpool researcher Dr Nicholas Casewell said the evolution of venom was a “really complex process”.

“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,” he added.

The nervous and cardiovascular systems have been a target of the main targets of snake venom when attacking prey and it has played a role in the origins of some blood pressure drugs such as ACE inhibitors.

Scientists acknowledge that the challenge lies in overcoming the toxic effect of the toxins to develop new drugs.

Dr Wolfgang Wuster from Bangor University said: “Many snake venom toxins target the same physiological pathways that doctors would like to target to treat a variety of medical conditions.”

 

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