The venom of one of world’s deadliest snakes could re­lieve pain, say sci­en­tists

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

A snake with the largest venom glands in the world could hold the an­swer to pain re­lief, sci­en­tists have found.

Dubbed the “killer of killers”, the long-glanded blue co­ral snake is known to prey on the likes of king co­bras.

Venom from the 2m-long snake na­tive to South East Asia acts “al­most im­me­di­ately” and causes prey to spasm.

New re­search pub­lished in the jour­nal Toxin found it tar­gets re­cep­tors which are crit­i­cal to pain in hu­mans and could be used as a method of treat­ment.

“Most snakes have a slow-act­ing venom that works like a pow­er­ful seda­tive. You get sleepy, slow, be­fore you die,” said re­searcher Dr Bryan Fry from the Univer­sity of Queens­land.

“This snake’s venom, how­ever, works al­most im­me­di­ately be­cause it usu­ally preys on very dan­ger­ous an­i­mals that need to be quickly killed be­fore they can re­tal­i­ate. It’s the killer of killers.”

Cone snails and scor­pi­ons are some of a hand­ful of in­ver­te­brates whose venom has been stud­ied for its med­i­cal use. How­ever, as a ver­te­brate, the snake is evo­lu­tion­ar­ily closer to hu­mans, and so a medicine de­vel­oped from its venom could po­ten­tially be more ef­fec­tive, says Dr Fry.

“The venom tar­gets our sodium chan­nels, which are cen­tral to our trans­mis­sion of pain. We could po­ten­tially turn this into some­thing that could help re­lieve pain, and which might work bet­ter on us.”long

The snake’s venom glands ex­tend to up to one-quar­ter of its body length.

“It’s got freaky venom glands, the long­est of any in the world, but it’s so beau­ti­ful. It’s eas­ily my favourite species of snake,” said Dr Fry.

It is the first ver­te­brate in the world known to have venom act­ing this way, ac­cord­ing to Dr Fry. But the snake is rare: more than 80% of its habi­tat has been de­stroyed. “They’re re­ally rare. I’ve only ever seen two of them in the wild,” he said.

“Much of their homes have been cleared to make way for things such as palm plan­ta­tions in South East Asia. Who knows what else was in that for­est that could’ve po­ten­tially saved lives?”

Dr Fry and his team, which com­prises re­searchers from coun­tries in­clud­ing China, the US and Sin­ga­pore, is set to study rel­a­tives to the snake in Sin­ga­pore.

“We’re try­ing to see if there are any rel­a­tives of the long-glanded blue co­ral snake that would pos­sess any dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. Some peo­ple say the only good snake is a dead snake but we’re try­ing to do the op­po­site here.”

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