Snakes and their venom have fascinated humanity for millennia. Many people suffer from opiophobia: irrational fear of snakes. Despite this, the toxins present in their venom are a prolific source of resources for medicine. They were already used in treatments from ancient Greece. Since then, many medications have been inspired by snake venom, including pain relievers and hypertension treatments. The process to extract the snake venom is dangerous. Therefore, snake organs replicated in the laboratory offer new possibilities.
They produce real poison
Snake bites kill more than 100,000 people every year. Very little is known about how the poison works, which makes it difficult to develop treatments. Thanks to researchers at the Hubrecht Institute (KNAW), in the Netherlands, that could change. Scientists have managed to grow miniature snake organs in the laboratory. They do it from snake stem cells. They work just like the venom glands of these offices. They even produce real poison.
The team developed the "recipe" to keep snake venom gland organoids in culture indefinitely. “The similarities between the conditions necessary for the cultivation of human and snake organoids are amazing. The main difference is the temperature, ”says Jens Puschhof of the Hubrecht Institute. The body temperature of the snakes is lower than that of the human being. Therefore, snake organoids only grow at a lower temperature; 32 ° C instead of 37 ° C.
For the first time, researchers have been able to study the production of venom in individual cells. “There are several types of cells that specifically produce different types of hormones. We have seen that this also occurs in the case of toxins produced by snake venom, ”explains Joep Beumer, co-author of the study.
Antidotes and more
Snake organs replicated in the laboratory can change the type of toxins generated. This opens the door to control the composition of the poison produced by the organoids. They have also shown that some of the neurotoxins produced by organoids are active and can block the excitation of neurons in various cellular systems. That is, it is the same as if toxins were extracted directly from snakes.
The findings could be used for the production of antidotes, as well as for the specific development of new medications. These applications are already being developed today. Likewise, organoid culture from reptiles suggests that tissues of other vertebrate animals, such as lizards or fish, could also be cultivated in this way. It is a technology with many possible applications that can have an impact on human health.