Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Medicinal Venoms

As many of us have found out the hard way, a scorpion sting is painful, to say the least. However, scorpion venom may be used as an alternative to dangerous and addictive painkillers like morphine, according to researchers. Scientists are investigating new ways for developing a novel painkiller based on natural compounds found in the venom of scorpions. These compounds have gone through millions of years of evolution and some show high efficacy and specificity for certain components of the body with no side effects.

The Gila monster is one of only two species of venomous lizards. It is native to southwestern United States and northern Mexico. But unlike other poisonous critters, they don’t inject venom directly into their victims. Instead, poison drips from the lizard’s teeth into the open wound, while it is chewing. Because of this, human fatalities from Gila monster bites are rare. None the less a bite can cause intense pain, nausea; swelling, dizziness, etc. – none of which is particularly fun.

But In addition to those nasty side effects, Gila monster venom stimulates insulin production and slows down glucose production, which is great news for diabetics. A common drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes uses a manufactured form of Gila monster venom as its main ingredient. Approved by the FDA in April of 2005, Byetta is injected before meals to help their bodies produce the right amount of insulin at the right time. The best is it doesn’t cause mood swings often associated with traditional insulin regimens.

Copperhead Snake Venom for Breast Cancer? A health report has created a flurry of attention about a controversial approach to treating breast cancer, snake venom. Recently Bill Haast, a 90-year-old researcher was interviewed; he has spent his career studying venoms from some of the world’s most poisonous snakes. As a result, he helped develop many medicines that are used today to treat the disease. He cites articles by the hundreds and stories where people were miraculously improving.

Copperhead snake venom contains a specific protein that may indeed have an impact on tumor growth. In studies the venom when injected into mice implanted with human breast cancer cells, revealed a 60-70 percent reduction in the growth rate of the breast tumors and a 90 percent reduction in tumor metastases (spread) to the lungs.

Not all snake venom is the same; time and again scientists encounter unusual new structures. The goal of researchers is to find out why individual components of venom act in a particular way and what they may have to offer to the pharmaceutical industry.

Another study underway is how snake venom fights strokes. It is designed for people who suffer an acute ischemic stroke, the most common type. It occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is compromised by a blood clot. But it must be administered in the first three hours after symptoms strike. It packs a triple punch against stroke, preventing new clots from forming, breaking down existing clots, and thinning out the blood, thereby improving blood flow to the brain.

It doesn’t stop there; it is also being tested for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Many common venoms are being studied, from snakes to honey bees, each unique, perhaps holding a cure to many common health issues. Deliberately administered venoms in the right amount can actually be beneficial to human health. The list of diseases and disorders that may be treated with venoms continues to grow.