Snakesâ€”long and short, smooth and scaly, dull and colorful, harmlessâ€”and deadly. Donâ€™t worry, this is not going to be a scary snake story. Americans have an ambivalent attitude toward snakes. On the one hand, our popular culture loves them; our classic cars are the Shelby Cobra and the Dodge Viper. The Air Force calls its air-to-air missiles â€œSidewiders.â€ On the other hand, few animals are more feared by the average person. Whether in movies, literature, or folklore, poisonous serpents have received bad press, which is unfortunate, because snakes like copperheads and cobras are at this moment at the forefront of some of the most exciting medical breakthroughs.
I am going to tell you today about the nature of snake venom and why it can be used in medicine. Next, we will explore some of the breakthroughs it is already used for, and finally we will discover the new applications that lie just over the medical horizon. Whether for heart attacks, organ rejection, blood pressure, strokes or many other health conditions, snake venom holds great promise for both patients and the general public alike.
Before getting to the promised land, however, we have first to find out what snake venom is, and why doctors can use it. Arizona State Uâ€™s Chain Reaction online Magazine, last referenced December 12 2002, reports the studies of Dr. Allan Bieber regarding the composition of this deadly fluid. Dr. Beiber says that most snake venom is some form of protein. Now, protein is one of the bodyâ€™s basic building blocksâ€”antibodies, hormones, enzymes, hair and muscles are all forms of proteins. .
Snake venom, however, is a deadly mix of particularly powerful proteins, grouped into neurotoxins and hemotoxins, which set off destructive chain reactions when injected into the human body. In â€œCold Blooded Newsâ€ from March 2001, Ed Ferrer of the Colorado Herpetological Society explains the difference between the two.