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Snake Venom – for wound healing?

Wound healing is a complex physiological process. Most modern drugs merely reduce the chances of infections. They do not hasten the process of creating a new network of blood vessels to heal the wound.

When Rupamoni Thakur joined Ashis K. Mukherjee as PhD scholar at the Tezpur University, they decided to tackle this problem using an unlikely candidate: snake venom.

Russell's-Viper-India Wikimedia

Russels Viper, Daboia russelii. Image: Kailash Kumbhkar, via Wikimedia Commons

Ashis has been working on snake and scorpion venom for decades and he knew that snake venom contains several components, some of which, he suspected, can be used for therapeutic purposes. They selected one of the components in the venom of the Russell Viper: a peptide that increases the rate of formation of blood vessels. Now the question was how to apply the peptide.

Pranobesh Chattopadhay from the Defence Research Laboratory, Tezpur who has been working on various drug formulations, suggested aloe vera gel. The gel can be a carrier for the peptide.

But then aloe vera gel is known to have wound healing properties on its own. So it would be difficult to distinguish the action of the snake venom peptide; it would become a confounding variable.

The team designed experiments to overcome the problem. They checked the activity of the mixture and compare it with that of the individual components. They tested the mixture of the venom peptide and aloe vera gel against different bacterial strains. The mixture turned out to be more potent than the individual components, suggesting a synergistic action.

 To test their formulation, they induced wounds in Wistar rats and evaluated the wound’s microbial load before and after the formulation was applied. Everyday, the researchers measured the area of the wound closure. They also checked the formulation’s effect on the  levels of inflammatory cytokines in the plasma of the rats since cytokines help heal wounds.

The results revealed that the snake venom peptide, along with aloe vera gel, accelerate wound healing. The rats did not show any adverse morphological alteration nor did the formulation have any effect on the major organs of the rats. So it is safe to use.

Of course, more animal trials followed by clinical trials are necessary before such a formulation can be brought to the market. Moreover, we need to consider the feasibility of using snake venom for wound healing. It may endanger the Russell Viper population, if such a formulation is commercialized.

However, there are alternatives: identify the active site of the protein and chemically synthesize the peptide, perhaps with enhanced activity.

Though Rupamoni Thakur has now joined the Dibrugarh University faculty, the collaboration may continue, it appears.

Toxicon, 167: 78-82 (2019); DOI: 10.1016/j.toxicon.2019.04.009

Ankita Khataniar, Dibrugarh University

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