Snake venom has been used to make antisera for snake bites for decades, however, making drugs from the venom itself is a fairly new idea. In a recent paper published by Toxicon, scientists report how a protein called eristostatin helps people’s immune systems fight malignant melanoma. Previous studies have shown that eristostatin stops melanoma cells colonizing the liver and lungs in mice.
Eristostatin, extracted from the venom of the Asian sand viper, stops victims’ blood clotting and thus plugging up damaged blood vessels after a bite. It does this by sticking to blood platelets and scientists hope to make use of this tendency to encourage the immune system to attack melanoma cells.
Eristostatin has a particular affinity for melanoma cells, which presumably have a protein on their surfaces that is similar to the one which attracts eristostatin to platelets. Additionally, when eristostatin is attached to a cell’s surface it attracts the attention of T-lymphocytes (immune-system cells whose job is to kill other body cells that have been infected with viruses or which have turned cancerous). If melanoma cells could be made especially attractive to T-lymphocytes, that might clear away the tumor completely.
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