How can snake venom be used in medicine?

Venomous snakes have a reputation of being the most deadliest and dangerous killer animals in the wild life, especially when it comes to their killer bites. But the same deadly venom that makes these snakes dangerous is the same thing that makes it valuable to the medical research community. Over the years, scientists & medical researchers have discovered that the very compounds that makes venom poisonous, are useful in the treatment of several human diseases.

What is Venom?
There are about 3000 different species of snakes of which about 600 are venomous. These Snake venom’s that make these species so dangerous are made up of hundreds of different types of pep tides, enzymes, and toxins. Every snake produces its own specific venom.
There are two main types of venoms namely, hemotoxins and neurotoxins. Hemotoxins target the circulatory system and prevents clotting compounds from functioning correctly, which causes profuse bleeding. Neurotoxins target the central nervous system that stops muscles from working, ultimately leading to suffocation. Venom made of neurotoxins is very deadly, as the proteins within can disrupt the channels that allow ions to flow across neuron membranes. If these communication channels are disrupted, the entire body system can crash, leading to immediate death.

Medicinal Usage of the venom
Medicines derived from hemotoxins are used in treatment of heart attacks and blood disorders. The first drug derived from snake venom toxin was developed to treat high blood pressure. This venom was taken from a Brazilian pit viper, consisting of a protein that prevents a compound called angiotensin-converting enzyme from functioning correctly. The human body uses this enzyme to maintain a stable blood pressure. Medical researchers have developed a synthetic version of the snake venom protein that is used in medicines to treat high blood pressure.
Other drugs derived from hemotoxins include eptifibatide, which contains a modified rattlesnake venom protein, and tirofiban, which contains a venom protein from the African saw-scaled viper. These medicines are used in treatment of minor heart attacks. They work by helping to dissolve and prevent blood clots. Medical tests indicate that small dosages of the venom from Malayan pit viper help to dissolve stroke-related blood clots and prevent new clots from forming. Medicinesderived from neurotoxins are used to treat brain injuries, strokes, and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Looking at how effective these venoms are in the treatment for circulatory system disorders, researchers are studying the potential of snake venom proteins to be for the treatment against cancer. Researchers have found that a compound in the venom of a certain type of snake which is not yet disclosed has the potential to disrupt the function of endothelial cells that forms the inner surface of blood vessels. This can lead to the cells to separate from one another, which leads to their death. Scientists think that this property of snake’s toxic venom could be used to disrupt the flow of blood to a tumor and thus preventing its growth. Since the venom toxins act on certain types of cells, hence the healthy cells would not be unaffected.

Scientists are also studying and exploring of using snake venom as a potential source of painkilling compounds. Researchers have determined that two molecules isolated from black mamba venom are as effective as morphine in the elimination of pain. But there is yet a lot of research and studies that needs to be made before a black mamba venom–derived drug could be considered for human use. On the positive side to this is that the early tests in the lab have encouraging results to it.

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