All you need to know about snake venom

There are approximately 2.700 – 3.000 species of smake that were known to human, in which 300 are poisonous. Some species like cobra, rattlesnake, sea snake have very powerful venom, long ago they were researched and have applications to make pain relief, anti-inflamatory for patients with arthritis and cancer.

1.What is snake venom?

Some scientists believe that snake venom composition includes proteins transformed from snake saliva, which originally used to devour and digest prey. Some others think that the ability to create poisonous substances evolves independently in different species. However Australian researcher – Bryan Fry, one of the leading experts in venomous snake has different theory. Through ADN analysis, he discovered most of the protein and enzyme found in snake venom are quite close to other chemicals in snake body, for example in the liver, digestive organs or other systems. Genes control the production of these chemicals in organs activated in salivary glands of snakes, where they produce chemicals once transformed and regenerated, can help snakes kill prey effectively.

  1. Kinds of snake venom

There are 16 different chemicals in snake venom, each of them has its own effect on each organ or all over the body which is bitten. All the venom have the same properties include dissolving red and white blood cells (hemolytic ability), which can no longer activate if we boil the venom in 100 degree Celcius in half an hour. Scientists believe that the main venom which is fatal for human can be differentiate in 3 types: Neurotoxin which harms nervous system; Hemotoxins solidifies and disintegrates blood, destroys blood vessels, creates local inflammatory disorders; and Cytotoxin, which poisons the cells.

When we’re bitten by snakes, the toxicity of snake venom is not only because of its components but also when they enter the body, they combine into other chemicals that have more destructive power. Depends on the responsive level of the body, the victim can show different expressions when bitten. But usually they are: swelling, pain in the bit mark, after some time (from 3 to 4 hours), the victim can feel vertigo, dizziness, headache, shortness of breath, nausea, sore throat, vomiting, lisp, dysphagia, drowsiness, cold hands and feet, pain, sweating, slow heartbeat… If serious, it can lead to convulsions, coma, hypotension, cardiac arrest leading to death.

  1. Snake venom therapeutic uses

However, human can also benefits quite a bit from snake venom. Human has been raising snakes and use their venom to treat diseases for 3000 years. Nowadays, snake venom can be used to make serum to treat snake poisons and some pharmaceuticals. On the world market, dried snake venom can cost 12 times more than gold (1 gram of dried snake venom = 12 – 15 grams of gold), sometimes up to several dozen times. People have snakes bite a glass jar and then can collect a sticky, clear and yellowish liquid, weighs from 1.03 – 1.05, contains 50 -70% water. If leave for 24 hours, snake venom will transmute and have foul smells. If dried it can be collected in small yellow crystals and keep its properties for years.

In 1895, Dr. A.Calmette, Director of Microbiology Institute of Pasteur in Saigon, based on research projects on snake venom of France Natural Museum’s Phisalix and Bertrand, proposed the procedure to create serum to treat snake bites. For the first time, anti cobra venom serum (Naja naja) was produced successfully in Saigon Pasteur Institute. Anti viper venom serum therapy was applied in all countries over the world, which saves many bitten humans and animals. Anti viper venom serum has anti-poison, prevent and cure disease abilities. Recently, the procedure to create anti viper venom serum is increasingly improved.

Scientists have been researching to create multi-purpose serum to use in all cases of snake bites. Almost all developed countries now offers dried anti snake venom serum with great reserves, always ready to serve emergency victims, but with high price, from 600 to 1.200 USD/bottle. Furthermore, poisonous snakes are biologically, toxicology unique for each geographical region; thus, almost all countries around the world has research center to produce anti snake venom serum for their own countries.

In 1990, anti snake venom serum research and manufacturing units under Cho Ray hospital was found and in 1998, Ministry of Health allowed the use of 2 types of anti venom serum of cobra and choam snakes in clinical treatment for emergency patients by snake bites in Cho Ray hospital. From December 2004 to July 2007, National Poison Centre, Bach Mai hospital conducted clinical trials for anti venom serum in Bach Mai and Cho Ray hospital. The result was astonishing, 40 patients suffered from cobra’s snake bite, heavily poisoned after using the serum, completely recovered in the fisrt 24 hours. Side effects in allow amount 10 – 18 %,

Beside anti venom serum, snake venom can also be used to create multiple injection drugs to treat bleeding, increase the strength of capillaries, reduces pain (for arthritis, angina and cancer patients) or to create topical ointment to treat rheumatism, neuralgia belts, myositis… Science also confirmed extracts from cobras, rattlesnakes, and vipercan treat many diseases such as dissolving clots or have the potential to slow the growth of cancer cells.

The first substance isolated from snake venom of the Brazil viper, Bothrops Jararaca species, in 1949. This venom dilates the blood vessels, lower preys’ blood pressure to make them react slower and late collapse. After that this poison became the stepping stone for a medicines used to treat high blood pressure in the family commonly known as ACE inhibitors. Another effective medicines to treat blood disorder is also produced from Malaysia viper venom.

Snake venom often affects certain cells and this property leads to an important research project about cancer treatment. Chemo therapy has side effects because it cannot differentiate between cancer cells and normal cells. Some other research projects are testing the use of snake venom to destroy the blood vessel that lead nutrients to tumors, thereby starving it to death.

It’s noteworhty that the substance has been detected in snake venom really nurture the formation of new nerve cells. This can be very beneficial to patients suffered from Alzheimer and other disease in which nerve cells in the brain die. Dr. Heloisa Sobreiro Selistre de Araujo of Sao Carlos Federal College (Brazil) said, the ALT – C in snake venom can strengthen and prevent the creation of new blood vessels. If in low dosage, ALT – C can promote the formation of new blood vessels. This means that this chemicals can be the base to create new drugs for treating disease from irrational circuitry distribution such as heart disease, lesions caused by diabetes and even erectile dysfunction.

Thus, snake venom is only toxic when bitten by snakes; if properly uses, it will bring many benefits to human. Moreover, people will no longer scare of poisonous snakes, know how to take precautions to prevent snake bites and the effective treatment when bitten, and since can live in peace with poisonous snakes on earth.

(Dr. Dinh Cong Bay, from “Kien thuc ngay nay” – Quy Ty Spring, 2013; page 56+57+104)


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