Snake venom is already used by doctors in various drugs to treat heart problems and even disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Scientists have been studying the medicinal properties of various snake venoms for decades. For example, certain Tunisian vipers have been shown to have anti-tumor properties. Others have antibacterial and painkiller features.
Hemotoxins in snake venom target the circulatory system, and typically attack the body’s clotting ability and muscles. But scientists have also found ways to use hemotoxins for medicine — such as treating heart attacks and blood disorders.
Other drugs have been developed from neurotoxins in snake venom, which are used to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as stroke and brain injuries; more research will need to be done to better understand the medicinal properties of these toxins.
All venom is multifaceted and multitasking. (The difference between venom and poison is that venom is injected, or dibbled, into victims by way of specialized body parts, and poison is ingested.)
Dozens, even hundreds, of toxins can be delivered in a single bite, some with redundant jobs and others with unique ones. In the evolutionary arms race between predator and prey, weapons and defenses are constantly tweaked.
Drastically potent concoctions can result: Imagine administering poison to an adversary, then jabbing him with a knife, then finishing him off with a bullet to the head. That’s venom at work.
Ironically, the properties that make venom deadly are also what make it so valuable for medicine. Many venom toxins target the same molecules that need to be controlled to treat diseases. Venom works fast and is highly specific. Its active components—those peptides and proteins, working as toxins and enzymes—target particular molecules, fitting into them like keys into locks.
Most medicines work the same way, fitting into and controlling molecular locks to thwart ill effects. It’s a challenge to find the toxin that hits only a certain target, but already top medicines for heart disease and diabetes have been derived from venom. New treatments for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and pain could be available within a decade.
Toxins from venom and poison sources are also giving us a clearer picture of how proteins that control many of the body’s crucial cellular functions work. Studies of the deadly poison tetrodotoxin (TTX) from puffer fish, for instance, have revealed intricate details about the way nerve cells communicate.