Saturday, November 3, 2007

Medicine from TAIPAN's Venom

A venom compound from one of the world’s deadliest snakes, the Taipan, is being developed by Brisbane biotechnology company ElaCor, as a new drug to treat heart failure.
Congestive heart failure (CHF) claims the lives of over 3,000 Australians each year with a further 300,000 people affected by the disease. The project’s principal researcher, University of Queensland’s (UQ) Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s (IMB) Professor Paul Alewood, said current treatments for CHF had serious side effects and rarely combated the progression of the disease. “The team has isolated a unique set of active molecules from Taipan venom and research shows they are extremely effective at easing the heart’s workload,” he said. “Not only are these molecules very effective, tests have shown that they are also extremely stable, which is an attractive feature for new drugs. “The human body naturally produces similar types of molecules in response to heart failure but these break down too quickly to have a lasting effect, making them inappropriate as a long term treatment,” he said.

CHF is an often-fatal disease in which the heart is weakened and lacks the strength to adequately pump blood around the body. ElaCor was recently awarded a $250,000 AusIndustry Biotechnology Innovation Fund Grant enabling optimisation of the molecules to develop a superior drug candidate to treat the multiple symptoms of CHF.

Established by IMBcom, the commercialisation company for UQ’s IMB, in collaboration with the Baker Heart Research Institute (BHRI) in Melbourne, ElaCor is the result of an extensive research collaboration between Professor Alewood and Associate Professor Geoff Head from the BHRI. The BHRI’s Head of Commercialisation Ms Tina Rankovic said ElaCor provided a unique opportunity to leverage the skills and synergies of two prestigious Australian research organisations. “By combining the research expertise from these groups we hope to advance discovery in one of medicine’s greatest remaining challenges - preventing heart failure.”

IMBcom CEO Dr Peter Isdale said he was extremely pleased with the development of ElaCor and was gratified the Australian Government remained committed to the development and excellence of Australian science and innovation, by supporting the science of today for the business of tomorrow.

TAIPAN, the most deadliest of the snakes:
Australia has 30 different kinds of venomous (poisonous) snakes. The largest and most poisonous of them is the taipan (say tie-pan). It is in fact considered to be possibly the most venomous snake in the world.

The taipan grows to over 2.5 metres in length. There are two species, or kinds, of taipan. The more common one found in the far north of Australia, in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia where winter temperatures are above 18ºC.

The inland taipan (left) lives in a very remote part of Australia, in the centre, and is rarely seen, so little is known about it.

The taipan is a pale creamy colour on the head. The body is light brown, dark brown, copper or olive in colour.

The taipan has excellent senses of smell and eyesight. It quickly moves in on its prey, strikes fast, draws back and waits for the poison to work. As soon as the poison has worked, the snake eats the prey. Their preferred food is rats, and so taipans are often found in the Queensland cane fields where rats are plentiful. Taipans also eat birds, mice, lizards and small marsupials.

The female taipan lays 10-20 eggs after mating.

Taipans are the most intelligent, nervous and alert of the Australian venomous snakes. They generally stay away from humans, escaping before they are noticed. However, the taipan will defend itself fiercely if it is cornered or threatened, often delivering several bites.

Taipans are 'milked' of their venom by getting them to inject venom into a jar through a rubber cover. The venom is used to make medicine to help save people who are bitten by a taipan.

Like all snakes, the taipan has its place in the environment.
Snakes generally avoid people, rarely strike unless threatened, and should not be hunted out and killed.

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