• Question: can snakes get arthritus from ed100

    Asked by ed100 to Austin, Kirsty, Nicola, Nike, Sarah on 19 Jun 2012.
    • Photo: Kirsty Ross

      Kirsty Ross answered on 19 Jun 2012:

      There is no evidence that snakes can get arthritis, but snake venom is currently being investigated as a potential treatment for arthritis in people.

    • Photo: Austin Elliott

      Austin Elliott answered on 19 Jun 2012:

      That’s interesting, Kirsty – do you know what component of the venom precisely?

      Snake venoms are a ‘treasure trove’ of interesting biological peptides – a lot of venoms have multiple components (different chemical in them), often dozens, that do all sorts of different things. Things in the venom are often active on nerve cells (because stopping nerves working paralyses the prey, and gives the snake time to get away, or to eat it!) Given that, these venoms are often looked at to give clues for new drugs for treating pain (as pain relies on nerve signalling too).

      A famous example of a medicine derived from snake venom (at least in a ‘path of discovery’ way) is a very important class of blood pressure lowering drugs called ‘ACE inhibitors’. The people who discovered them started with the venom of a kind of South American pit viper which was known to cause a big blood pressure drop in the people who got bitten. The scientists isolated the peptide that caused the drop in blood pressure, and then started trying to make ‘related’ compounds that would work as drugs (e.g. that you could take as a pill, rather than having to get bitten!!) Nowadays if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure in the UK there’s a good chance that the first drug you’ll be given will be one of these ACE inhibitor compounds.