Friday, December 26, 2014

King Cobra Venom: The Most Unlikely Healer

Chinese has it in their symbols: it’s called Ying and Yang. That for every good there is an equivalent bad and vice-versa, the pull of life and death. However, one of the most feared – and revered - snakes in the whole world seem to show a lot of promise to become the most helpful to man. In times of need.

There are only a few animals on Earth that pose direct danger to man – aside from man that is. None gave rise to so much fear as the dreaded King Cobra. Not only is its choice of diet, that of eating other snakes, sound sickening to humans, its venom can be induce death within 30 minutesto a full-grown healthy human – if envenomation is large enough. And for all its unique traits, no specie of snake have given rise to so much folklore and beliefs as the biggest of the most venomous snake of them all – the King of the Hunt, King Cobra.
A Most Dangerous Venom Turns Good

Central to the mystery that surrounds the King Cobra is its venom. And as snake venoms have been the focus of intense study of many herpetologists and biologists, the King Cobra’s venom may have become more mysterious than most. To boot, they are among the fastest-acting venoms in the venom world.  Stories abound on how death by King Cobra has left many unlucky men unable to respond in time, their nervous system crippled as their muscle receptors are bound by the toxins.

However, that is not the total picture of the King Cobra’s venom. Professor R. ManjunathaKini of the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore has had some very wonderful findings on the reptile’s venom in his studies. From the toxin of the Ophiophagus Hannah or King Cobra, Kini’s group was able to identify a novel protein unique only to the serpent. They call it ohanin (Kini, 2005).

The Miracle Called Ohanin

Ohanin maybe but a small protein made up of 107 amino acids but its effects may surpass even that of the most powerful of painkillers, morphine including.

For starters, the unique protein has been found to be non-toxic up to 10 mg/kg, making it possible to be injected in lab rats. What struck the researchers most was that ohanin protein exhibited two very prominent effects, hyoplocomotion and hyperalgesia. Whereas hyoplocomotion is the inhibition of behavioral activity, an effect identified with sedatives, hyperalgesia increases a human’s sensitivity to pain. Though not really two desirable effects, these shows how drastic and powerful are the effects of ohanin, something that needed a little tweaking to be of great use.
After strenuous research, Professor Kini and his team was able to develop a painkiller from ohanin by putting particular parts of the protein in isolation.

As it turn out, they were able to produce a painkiller that is 20 times more potent than morphine. What is most surprising is it displays zero side effects at dosages even up to 2,000 times that of the effective dose. And though this new drug is still undergoing clinical trials, it may be available by 2016 or 2017.

In the even it goes to market, the ohanin-based painkiller may be the King Cobra’s way of giving back something good from something so devastating.

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