Fangs giving: How snake venom could hold the key to Alzheimer's treatment

Melbourne researchers believe snake venom may hold the key to destroying plaques that cause Alzheimer's disease, offering new hope for a drug that could prevent the disease taking hold in newly-diagnosed people.

The discovery, by scientists at Monash University, uses venom from a 'pit viper' snake found in parts of South and Central America to tackle amyloid beta, a toxic protein that causes Alzheimer's.

In healthy bodies, the protein is broken down by enzymes as it forms and accumulates but in patients who have the disease the enzymes cease working and amyloid beta builds up, causing plaque deposits that result in severe harm.

Alzheimer's and other associated forms of dementia affect more than 350,000 Australians and the disease costs the health and aged care systems almost $5 billion a year.

There has long been a race among researchers to find a drug that reactivates enzymes, allowing the body to continue breaking down amyloid beta and Monash researchers Dr. Sanjaya Kuruppu, and Professor Ian Smith from the university's  Biomedicine Discovery Institute believe they have found the answer

Their research, published in the journal, Nature Scientific Reports, finds the pit viper venom may hold the key. Dr Kuruppu has spent most of his professional life studying snake venoms for medical treatments .

"Snake venom was an obvious place for me to start," he said.

After checking many different types of venom Dr Kuruppu found the Pit Viper's contained a molecule that works to stimulate the enzymes that break down the harmful protein.

The breakthrough offers particular hope for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's, where plaque deposits are no advanced and stimulating the enzymes could quickly turn around deteriorating patients.

A synthetic version of the molecule has already been replicated in the laboratory and has proven equally as effective as the one found in pit viper venom.

The treatment will now be trialed in mice before it can be considered as a viable treatment for humans.

March, 20 2016

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