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How venoms are shaping medical advances

The dangers of venoms are well documented, but these deadly toxins can also save lives.


Toxicologist Dr Zoltan Takacs says: "Venom toxins are the only molecules on Earth explicitly selected by evolution to take a life in less than one minute”. In 2015, David Warrell, tropical medicine specialist at Oxford University, estimated that 200,000 deaths a year were caused by snakebites.

毒理学家塔卡克斯(Zoltan Takacs)博士说:“毒液是生物进化过程中明确的自然选择的结果,让它成为地球上唯一能在一分钟内夺人性命的分子结构。”牛津大学热带医学专家沃瑞尔(David Warrell)2015年估计,全世界每年有20万人被毒蛇咬死。

The development of new antivenom is an ongoing struggle, however researchers have found that the toxins found in venoms can also aid in treating other medical conditions and several venom-based drugs are already in use. Here are four species whose venoms are being used to benefit humankind.




Snake venom is a term that covers a wide array of different venoms. Some kill quickly while others take time.


Most snakes deliver their poison through fangs that operate in a similar method to a syringe. Once the fang has pierced their victims flesh, the poison is delivered through the tooth and directly into the prey’s bloodstream. The exceptions to this are snakes who spit their venom, like the Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica).

大多数蛇通过毒牙输送毒液,毒牙的功能与注射器相似,一旦刺穿了受害者的皮肉,毒液就会通过牙齿直接进入他们的血液。当然也有例外,比如莫桑比克喷毒眼镜蛇(Naja Mossambica),它是攻击是通过喷吐毒液。

Since there is such a variety in the venoms, the potential medical applications differ from snake to snake. Coronary medical conditions are a field where solutions involving toxins taken from snakes are currently employed.

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由于毒液种类繁多,可能的医疗效用因蛇而异。蛇毒素目前已用来治疗冠状动脉。于1981年推出的卡托普利(Captopril,一种血管紧张素转化酶抑制剂,被应用于治疗高血压和某些类型的充血性心力衰竭),就是从美洲矛头蝮蛇(Jararaca pit viper snake)毒素中提取。

“Snake venoms served as templates for some of the top medicines used in high blood pressure, heart failure, and heart attack,” explains Takacs.


“The source of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor class of medicines, the Jararaca pit viper snake (Bothrops jararaca), arguably has saved more human lives than any other animal in the history of mankind.”

“血管紧张素转化酶抑制剂(ACEI)类药物的原料来自美洲矛头蝮蛇(Bothrops jararaca),它可谓人类历史上救人性命最多的动物。”

Komodo Dragons


The venom gland of a Komodo dragon works differently to that of a snake. Instead of the snake’s syringe-like action, Komodo dragons use an oozing method of delivery. Venom is squeezed out of multiple ‘sacks’ between the dragon’s teeth when its jaw clamps down onto its prey. The venom mixes with the prey’s blood and prevents it from clotting. This is why their prey continues to bleed out after the attack. While deadly to prey, the anticoagulante properties of this venom is key to its potential medical uses. These toxins have applications in treating strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms, all of which can stem from blood clots.




Over 1.2 million people are stung by scorpions each year, resulting in around 3250 deaths according to a 2008 study. Aside from its terrifying name, the deathstalker scorpion (Leiurus quinquestriatus) could play an important role in treating cancer. The deathstalker’s potent venom contains a toxin called Chlorotoxin which is being developed to diagnose cancers and in delivery systems for treating tumours.

根据2008年的一项研究,每年有120多万人被蝎子叮咬,其中约3250人因此丧生。以色列金蝎(Leiurus quinquestriatus),虽然名字听起来可怕,却在治疗癌症方面发挥着重要作用。它的强效毒液含有一种叫做氯毒素(Chlorotoxin)的物质,正被研发用于癌症诊断和肿瘤转移的治疗。

Northern Short-Tailed Shrew


Venoms are not normally found in mammals, and while this shrew’s venom isn’t strong enough to kill a human, it will cause pain and swellings.


This venomous shrew may have failed to grab the public imagination, but it has seized the interests of the scientific community. The reason: its venom is being explored for use in treating cancer.


Takacs says this is possible because some tumor cells express a molecule that’s structure closely resembles the natural target of the toxin.


“By piggy-backing this resemblance, it plausible to turn a toxin into a therapeutic or diagnostic agent for cancer.”

他说:“借助这种相似之处把毒素转变成用于癌症 诊断和治疗药物是可行的。



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