Could deadly snake venom lead to an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia? Medical researchers from “Down Under” seem to think so!
Associate Professor Niru Nirthanan from Australia’s Griffith University’s School of Medical Science has been looking at the venom of the eastern coral snake for nearly the last decade.
Together with his colleagues from the National University of Singapore, University of Queensland, University of Wollongong and HiQScreen in Switzerland, Professor Nirthanan has identified something coral snake venom does which has never been seen before. Professor Nirthanan and his colleagues have discovered the neurotoxin found in coral snake venom can form eight-sided structures, making it the most complex snake venom ever discovered.
“We call this structure an ‘octameric complex’ where eight molecules of the toxin come together and visually it looks like a crown,” he said.
The eight-molecule toxin can target many more protein receptors than a single molecule, making it effective against a range of animals the snake would prey on or defend itself against.
“This made us very curious about why snakes would produce molecules which are powerful in their own right, and then combine them together to form larger molecules.”
The subsequent research uncovered that the different molecular structures enabled the venom to target different animals, both as prey and for protection.
Why is this significant, and what does it have to do with Alzheimer’s?
Unlocking some of the secrets of the venom has also shown researchers ways this unique property can be adapted into possible treatments for neurological conditions in humans.
Because the coral snake venom is a neurotoxin that means it targets protein receptors in mammals that regulate communication between nerve cells or between nerves and muscles. This makes it an ideal candidate for further study to develop treatments for related conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other forms of dementia.
This is not the first time that researchers have turned to venom as a source for possible drugs. There is ongoing research into the uses of scorpion venom as a transfer treatment, spider venom is being looked at as a source for a possible ED medication, and the common blood pressure medication, captopril, is derived from the venom of a Brazilian pit viper.