The poison derived from one of the deadliest but extremely endangered, and rare South East Asian snake could form the base for an analgesic which could be as effective any narcotic painkiller without the risk of addiction. Narcotic analgesics constitute the mainstay for treating extreme pain in terminal stages of cancer. But the danger of addiction or abuse remains high. However, the venom of the Blue Coral Snake could be a substitute any pain treatment with opium derivatives for humans such as cancer pain, a torn muscle or even a migraine.
Associate Professor Bryan Fry affiliated to the University Of Queensland School Of Biological Sciences has been pursuing the project for the last 15 years. He and his team managed to study in great detail two such snakes in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia.
The Blue Coral Snake looks strikingly beautiful with electric blue stripes and red coloured head and tail. The snake has one of the biggest poison glands, and it extends a third of its length. The venom of the snake is the deadliest and most fast acting among all snakes. The venom of most snakes is either paralysing or reduce the clotting properties of blood leading to haemorrhages. The venom of this snake is typical and much akin to those found in scorpions and some snails. It causes the muscles to go immediately into a spasm by interfering with Sodium channel. The pain pathway also involves the same path and scientists are interested in two types of proteins found in the venom of the snake.
The snake is a resident of Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Much of its habitat has been usurped by human activities, and mass deforestation is threatening the species to the point of extinction. Most of the jungles in the area have been cleared for Palm cultivation. Fry and his team are trying to perfect an artificial version of the toxin in the venom before it is turned into medicine for commercial use.