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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Snake venom for heart attacks
Snake
Snake venom can have a positive effect
Researchers are to examine whether different types of snake venom contain chemicals that could prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The British Heart Foundation is to fund research being carried out by a joint team from Oxford, Birmingham and Liverpool Universities.


We anticipate that this new research will lead to important developments in treatment

Professor Sir Charles George
Heart attacks and strokes are caused by the clogging up of arteries with fatty material.

This can lead to tearing in the weakened blood vessel walls, and the formation of clots.

If the clots then become jammed in the blood vessels, they can cut off blood supply to the heart or brain, resulting in a heart attack or stroke.

Snake venom is already known to contain a variety or toxins which can either bring on or stop this process.

The new study will look at untested venoms to identify new toxins, focusing on those able to stop the cloting process.

It is hoped that the newly identified toxins will then be modified so they can be used to treat heart attack and stroke patients.

Long history

The research team has more than 25 years' experience in the collection, storage and analysis of snake venoms from around the world.

Professor Sir Charles George, BHF medical director, said: "The benefits of research on snake venoms for heart patients are well-known, for example they led to the introduction of ACE inhibitors.

"We anticipate that this new research will lead to important developments in treatment."

Dr Stephen Watson, BHF senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, said: "Snake venom could play an even greater role in the treatment of heart attack and stroke and we hope to make significant progress with this new study."

Over 270,000 people in the UK suffer a heart attack every year and about 46% are fatal. Stroke causes a further 60,000 deaths a year.

Types of venom

Snake venom is made up of a complex mixture of chemicals called enzymes.

Broadly, there are two types, neurotoxins, which attack the central nervous system, and haemotoxins, which target the circulatory system.

Snakes with neurotoxic venom include cobras, mambas, sea snakes, kraits and coral snakes.

Snakes with haemotoxic venom include rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottomouths.

Some snakes contain venom that contains combinations of both neurotoxins and haemotoxins.

See also:

05 Feb 99 | Health
05 May 02 | Health
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