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Venom's Healing Bite

  • By Kate Becker
  • Posted 02.17.11
  • NOVA

For hundreds of millions of years, evolution has been perfecting its own brand of biological warfare: venom. The toxic compounds in venom are finely honed weapons capable of launching precision attacks against cells in the nervous system, bloodstream, and organs. Now, medical researchers are tapping these potent chemical cocktails to develop new therapies for cancer, heart disease, and chronic pain. Nature's swords, it turns out, can make powerful medical ploughshares.

Launch Interactive

Toxic compounds in animal venom could yield new drugs for heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain.

Kate Becker is a researcher for NOVA and NOVA scienceNOW, and a frequent contributor to NOVA's blog.


Targeting cancer

Anonymous. 2009. "Scorpion venom with nanoparticles slows spread of brain cancer." ScienceDaily, 17 April 2009.

Anonymous. 2006. "Radioactive scorpion venom for fighting cancer." ScienceDaily, 27 June 2006.

Keeping tumors in check

Pyrko, P. et al. 2005. "The role of contortrostatin, a snake venom disintegrin, in the inhibition of tumor progression and prolongation of survival in a rodent glioma model." Journal of Neurosurgery, 2005 Sep; 103(3):526-37.

Finn, Robert. 2001. "Snake venom protein paralyzes cancer cells." Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 93 (4): 261-262.

Killing cancer cells

Ericson, Gwen. 2009. "Tumors feel the deadly sting of nanobees." Washington University in St. Louis newsroom website, 10 August 2009.

Loftus, Peter. 2009. "The buzz: Targeting cancer with bee venom." The Wall Street Journal, 28 September 2009.

Controlling blood pressure

Mayo Clinic staff. "Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors." Mayo Clinic website, accessed 3 February 2011.

Patlak, Margie. 2004. "From viper's venom to drug design: treating hypertension." Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1 March 2004.

Relieving pain

Zapp Machalek, Alisa. 2005. "Sea snail venom yields powerful new painkiller." NIH Record, 1 March 2005.



(death stalker scorpion)
© Arie van der Meijden
CDC/James Gathany
Jon Sullivan
(Bothropoides jararaca)
Daniel Loebmann
(pygmy rattlesnake)
© Maik Dobiey
(Conus magus)
© Richard Ling. Licensed under GFDL

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  • Evolution Down Under

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