Snake Venom - Poison or Cure?
Medical insignias often use the serpent in their designs. Many types of venom are highly toxic and utilise many different actions to achieve their potencies. The brown snakes have highly potent blood clotting fractions which activate part of the clotting cascade and ultimately cause a coagulopathy or difficult to clot blood. In this venom there are also potent neurotoxins in small amounts and it appears as though these toxins only affect humans in rare instances. These venoms however inevitably paralyse dogs and cats, which indicates the neurotoxins are affecting them. Tiger snake and taipan venoms offer greater challenges for the treating doctor. You have to deal with 3 main toxic actions, namely neurotoxins, blood clotting factor s and muscle destroying activities. The venom from red bellied black snakes is only weakly neurotoxic and the clotting factor is less active than in tiger and taipan snakebites. The red-bellied black snake venom however contains significant complement activating properties and although this doesn’t normally kill its victims, it can make them awfully sick. It reduces the body’s ability to mount an immune reaction.
A number of venoms have been used either as medical research tools or directly as therapeutic or diagnostics. The common brown snake venom is used in a diagnostic assay to test for lupus anticoagulants – a condition that can lead to miscarriage, stroke or other cardiovascular conditions. Taipan venom is used in the manufacture of a human skin sealant to accelerate healing. Many types of venom have been used and are being used in research to help understand various physiological and pharmacological processes. Tiger snake, brown snake and taipan venoms have been at the forefront of medical research in understanding the neuromuscular system and in haematology.
Our research Group involving Venom Supplies Pty Ltd, the IMVS and the University of South Australia are currently working on a number of applications for venoms in the areas of anti-cancer treatment, inflammation, blood vessel dilation and antivenom development.