Snake venoms are a source of proteins for the study of biological activity at the surface of cell membranes. For example, the venom phospholipase A2, is obtained from the Chinese cobra
A number of neurotoxins used in basic research are sourced from snake venoms, and have been used experimentally to investigate the nervous system for many years. There have also been anecdotal reports of the use of snake venom to treat multiple sclerosis (MS). Scientific evidence to support these claims has now been published, and it is possible to chemically ‘detoxify’ the venom, so that it is safe for administration to humans, causing few side effects.2
The venom of the Thailand cobra, cobratoxin, possesses several pharmacological properties which could contribute to its action against MS. It has been show to suppress components of the immune system in animal models of MS, while also having antiviral activity, reducing pain and affecting neurotransmission. These may all contribute to the reported benefits against the disease. Full investigations into the use of the modified venom as a drug are now underway, and clinical trials on its use in MS are planned.
An ACE inhibitor called bradyknin potentiating factor (BPF), from the venom of snakes, was found to reduce blood pressure in rats. ACE inhibitors prevent the formation in the blood of a naturally occurring substance, angiotensin II, which raises blood pressure.
- Scott, DL et al (1990) Science, 250: 1541-1546
- Reid PF. (2007) Crit Rev Immunol. 27 (4): 291-302