Venom extraction and research
The use of plants and animals as medicines is as old as mankind itself. Until the development of synthetic medicines in the 16th century natural resources were the only source of medicine in order to prevent, treat, or cure disease. Despite the great advances medicine has made since the development of synthetic medicines many diseases are still incurable, poorly curable, or the medication gives undesired side effects. Additionally, newly developed synthetic medicines show an ever decreasing efficacy and an increase in contraindications. Therefore more scientists are turning to nature again which has a seemingly unlimited amount of substances available. These could be used as starting materials for medicines against cancer, high blood pressure, pain relief, cardiovascular disease etc. Research into this ‘medicine cabinet’ of the natural world is still in its infancy but, theoretically, capable of preventing or curing most of diseases.
In view of medicinal development poisonous and venomous plants and animals are particularly interesting, unfortunately it is this very group of animals that face rapid threats and extinction. Causes for this are the destruction of their habitat, poaching, fishing, and the lack of understanding of these animals. Because many people fear or dislike animals like spiders, scorpions, snakes, frogs and toads conservation initiatives are either lacking or having difficulty making an impact. Therefore we are losing species which could potentially lead to the development of important drugs. The Herpetofauna foundation hopes to make people aware of the importance and potential of such animals in, among others, the curing of cancer, pain relief and preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s, in the hope this can be a driving force for people to save those species from extinction.
Below are several examples of medicines developed from venom to illustrate the importance of nature in the development of medicines. The actual list of medicines is a few pages long, and we are not nearing the end of possibilities for the development of these types of medicines.
- exenatide (active substance against type 2 diabetes), derived from Gila monster venom.
- captopril (used to treat high blood pressure), derived from lancehead snake venom.
- Ara /c (drug against leukemia) was obtained from several species of sponges.
- cognetix (painkiller, anti-MS, epilepsy), obtained from cone snails.
- ABT 594 (used to treat pain), derived from the South American poison dart frogs.
- viprinex (anticoagulant), derived from Malaysian Pitviper venom.
- escozul (experimental drug for the treatment of brain tumors), derived from the venom of Cuban blue scorpions.
Besides supporting conservation work to ensure those species will be around for generations to come the Herpetofauna foundation thinks it’s important to contribute to research done on their medicinal properties. Therefore money is being raised to extract, and research different types of venom of cobras and kraits. Extracting this venom helps to develop better and stronger painkillers that are less harmful and addictive. In addition, it might very well be possible for new medicinal applications of this venom to be found during the research. Currently money is being raised to finance the field work in Asia scheduled for next year.
Your support for this project makes it possible to investigate the medicinal properties of various venoms, and therefore also contributes to the conservation of various (venomous) species.