Snake Venom Extract Holds New Hope
For Cancer Treatment
The venom from a Southern copperhead snakebite is miserably painful and sometimes fatal to humans. But, the same snake venom that can take a life can potentially save thousands of lives. One of the ingredients in the venom has even been found to obliterate cancer cells.
The Case Against Detoxing
Why detoxing can actually make your body more toxic…Plus what to do instead to rid your body of pesticides, heavy metals, and other dangerous chemicals
You’ve probably heard that detoxing is good for your health. You’ve heard it can remove pesticides, heavy metals and chemicals from your body. You’ve heard that it can bolster your immune system and help support a healthy liver.
But here’s something you should know: Detoxing can actually make your body more toxic! That’s right, detoxing can actually make you sicker!
The magic ingredient, contortrostatin, is a protein found solely in copperheads. Lab studies show the compound works as an elixir to inhibit the growth of several types of cancer cells.
Great news, right?
Absolutely. All we have to do now is figure out how effective the compound really is on humans. So far it’s just been tested in cell cultures and lab animals.
How does it work?
Contortrostatin plays an important role when it comes to snakes and their food. Its purpose is to keep the blood of a snake’s prey from clotting so the other compounds of the venom — the poisons — can spread quickly and immobilize the animal. Not pleasant to read, but stay with me. . .
In the world of medicine, the protein has a much more appealing purpose. When used as an anti-cancer agent, it freezes the spread of cancer. And, it’s believed to work for several types of cancer.
Contortrostatin impresses researchers because it takes on not just one but two jobs when used against cancer cells. It prevents cancer cells from forming new blood vessels and it stops bad cells from “infecting” healthy cells.
Halting the formation of new blood vessels is important because blood vessels function as the life source of a cancer tumor. When cancer cells want to spread, they make new blood vessels. Stopping this process — called angiogenesis — is a key aim of certain conventional AND alternative cancer treatments.
If left unchecked, cancer’s newly formed blood vessels pump nutrient-rich blood into the tumors, helping them grow and flourish.
Angiogenesis results from the interaction of certain proteins — called integrins — found on the surface of cells. Contortrostatin intervenes by targeting these integrins. The snake venom protein is basically a dis-integrin (think of the word “disintegrate” and you’ll get the picture). The dis-integrin stops integrins in their tracks.
This particular snake venom chemical doesn’t attack the cell or blood vessel. Instead, it binds to the integrin and “confuses” an abnormal cell’s communications.
Dr. Francis Markland, a biochemist at University of Southern California and lead researcher for contortrostatin studies, describes the process like this: “Integrins can carry signals from outside a cell to the cell’s interior, but contortrostatin can substitute for that and alter the signal.” It’s sort of like contortrostatin turns all cell communication into static.
Mature blood vessels — the ones that feed healthy cells — do not have the same type of integrin, so good cells are left unharmed when contortrostatin comes on the scene.
This communication interference also allows contortrostatin to stop the spread of cancer to healthy cells. Metastasis, the term for the spread of a malignant tumor, also involves the use of integrins. Usually, cancer cells can move through blood vessel walls and spread to other parts of the body. Then they latch onto normal cells and invade. But, the venom extract disrupts the cell’s ability to do this.
Basically, contortrostatin freezes cancer cells and keeps them from doing much of anything. They don’t die, but at least they don’t spread. This is important, because it’s the spread of cancer that puts so many lives in danger. Cancer poses much less danger when it’s confined to the same place where it started.
What do the studies say?
Dr. Markland has studied contortrostatin and its cancer-fighting abilities for over a decade. His research studies continue to look promising. But so far, all research has remained in petri dishes and lab rats. He has yet to test the protein on humans.
Research findings include:
a) A study on lab rats showed that the growth of breast cancer was inhibited by 70-80%. Plus, contortrostatin prevented cancer from spreading to the lungs by 90%.
b) The chemical caused a 60% reduction in prostate cancer tumor volumes.
c) Other lab animal studies have shown similar successes for stopping the spread of brain tumors and ovarian cancer.
The substance appears to have very few side effects. In some cases, there was reported oozing or bleeding around the area where contortrostatin was injected. That doesn’t surprise me, since it’s an anti-clotting agent.
I’m no fan of oozing or bleeding, so I want more information about how this affects humans. But if we’re lucky, this side effect may be nothing compared to the nausea and weakness caused by chemotherapy.
The venom protein sounds like it has lots of potential. But research needs to move beyond the rat.
What’s stopping more studies about this promising discovery?
One hurdle is that contortrostatin goes through the body fast. Once in the blood, it is quickly swept to the liver for disposal. As you know if you’re a regular reader, the liver is the body’s filter.
The other, bigger challenge is money. Snake venom is no easy prescription order to fill. It’s difficult to isolate the protein from crude venom, so it’s terribly expensive.
In order to extract contortrostatin, a copperhead must be irritated and forced to release venom in a jar. The amount obtained is just a few drops. Then, the liquid must be dried and purified to separate all toxic chemicals from the protein.
The end result: Contortrostatin makes up .01 percent of the snake venom. That’s one part out of 10,000! It doesn’t bode well for this chemical as a clinical drug.
What will scientists do about it?
I’m sorry to say that natural contortrostatin is not the ideal cancer cure. Dr. Markland and other scientists have been cranking away to find alternatives to the venom protein.
Viable alternatives would need to be more cost-effective and more soluble in the blood stream. Put simply, the large-scale production of a soluble version of contortrostatin could solve many problems.
The challenge is making such a protein.
Markland and his team have been using genetic engineering to try to synthesize the protein chemically rather than milking it from snakes. Through a process of gene splicing, the researchers are working to create recombinant DNA (a form of artificial DNA) that works biologically in the body.
The goal is to mass-produce contortrostatin. A genetically altered gene seems to be the answer.
Will the FDA ever approve this?
This makes me very curious about the future of this drug. Sure, the compound from snake venom sounds promising. But how do we know a genetically altered gene will do the best job?
We won’t know until a lot more research is done. I’m interested to see if the natural venom or a synthetic version can stop cancer’s progress consistently, in humans, and with minimal side effects.
I’m also curious about what Big Pharma thinks of the venom cure. A 2001 article in the U.K.’s Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that Dr. Markland, who has a patent on contortrostatin, was considering partnerships with several pharmaceutical companies.
That was ten years ago, and I’ve found no information on whether drug negotiations have progressed. My guess is drug manufacturers are still interested, but there must be some stumbling blocks to finding a new and improved contortrostatin gene.
If clinical trials show enough successful results, there’s a good chance the FDA will go ahead with approval. In 1998, the administration gave the go-ahead for the production of Integrilin, a compound found in rattlesnake venom. It’s used for treating patients with unstable angina, chest pains, and minor heart attacks.
My hope is that some drug company can develop a genetically engineered form of contortrostatin and that success comes out of the clinical trials. If it shows successful results and steers clear of side effects, I’d be happy to see it replace the poisons of mainstream chemotherapy. Of course it won’t be cheap, but at least it may be safer and more effective.