'King cobra's venom could help cure cancer'
Alex Dunham · 3 Dec 2013, 18:00
Published: 03 Dec 2013 18:00 GMT+01:00
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The group's genetic findings have been published in the latest edition of prestigious US publication Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Their work will be contrasted with that of another team of biologists who have been studying the Burmese python, as a way of determining how king cobras evolved to produce venom.
The primary aim of the cobra genome study is to learn how to use toxins to control overactive receptors common in illnesses like cancer.
"Thanks to evolution, poisonous snakes have developed glands which transform certain genes into toxins, which then turn into venom," explains Juan José Calvete, member of Spain's National Research Council.
"Understanding the mechanism by which a protein is transformed into a toxin could in future allow us to copy the process in the lab.
"We could then modify the procedure so that the toxin cured rather than killed."
The venom of king cobras and other poisonous snakes contains proteins such as disintegrins, which act as inhibitors that stop the spread of cancer cells.
"It's too early to say that the venom can cure cancer, but it can certainly alleviate it," Calvete told Spanish daily El Mundo.