Snake venom used to shrink mice tumours

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 December, 2011, 12:00am


Venom from a Chinese viper may one day produce a drug that can dramatically shrink tumours in a range of cancers, researchers said yesterday.

In a preliminary study, Baptist University researchers found that a protein, known as ZK002, from the sharp-nosed viper can reduce colorectal tumours in mice by up to 28.6 per cent in a month.

The viper, which has very powerful venom, is found on the mainland and has a long history of usage in Chinese medicine to treat skin allergies.

In a separate study announced at the press conference, researchers with the drug company Lee's Pharmaceutical found that the protein could reduce the growth of capillaries in chicken embryos, which could make it effective against cancerous tumours.

'Cancer tumours absorb nutrients from nearby capillaries [making the capillaries grow], and suppressing the growth of these capillaries would starve the tumour,' associate dean and project co-ordinator Wendy Hsiao Wen-luan said. 'Preliminary studies showed [the protein was effective in] suppressing the excessive growth of capillaries. We hope that eventually we can develop an effective cancer drug with few side effects.'

In a six-month study conducted on 18 cancerous mice, university researchers found that the protein treatment had no adverse effects on the animals' health as reflected in their red blood cell counts and body weights.

Hsiao's team is hoping to validate the protein's ability to suppress excessive capillary growth. They also hope to learn if the protein fights cancer through other mechanisms, and how to clone it to save the cost of extracting venom from snakes.

The team is trying to prove that the protein could be used to treat other cancers, but developing a drug from it would take at least 10 years.

The preliminary discoveries won the team HK$3.9 million in funding for further studies.