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Cobra venom utilised to spot cancerous tumours

A new Indo-Russian project could help surgeons to be much more sure that they have cut out all of a cancerous tumour. The potentially life-saving discovery relies on a substances that kills thousands of Indians every year.

Cobra venom is currently the centre of a study to illustrate the margins of cancerous cells in tumour growth. This is the results of a collaborative effort between Tezpur University in India and the National University of Science and Technology MISIS in Moscow. Though information is currently scarce (worth noting is that a peer reviewed paper regarding this has not yet been published) the work does look promising.

The research involves the usage of alphaneurotoxins, a highly toxic chemical sourced from monocled cobra venom, combined with fluorescent nanoparticles of cadmium selenide known as quantum dots. The combination of the two was found to mark out boundaries of tumour growths, a technique that could potentially be utilised in surgeries involving the removal of cancerous growths.

This seems a bold claim. The research has not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal, though it is not the first time snake venom has been used in cancer therapy. Previous work has indicated various proteins and peptides isolated from snake venom have the capacity to bind specifically to cancer cell membranes, affecting proliferation and migration of the cells.

The Indian branch of the research has been focused on testing the neurotoxin-quantum dot hybrid in a variety of cellular models with the aim of ensuring there is no toxicity. This is a necessary step  in preparation for human trials. The nanoparticles are coated in a thin film of peptides, neutralising toxicity while also ensuring the nanoparticles remain small enough to easily penetrate into organs.

The nanoparticles penetrate an organ suspected of harbouring a tumour. The alphaneurotoxin from the cobra venom then specifically binds to nicotinic cholinergic receptors, a type of protein highly expressed (to a degree abnormal in healthy cells) in cancerous cells. The fluorescent nanoparticles can then be illuminated under UV light. Using this technique a border can be established to mark the extent of tumour growth.

Should the research prove successful, this would allow a tumour to be removed with a massively heightened chance of removing all traces of cancerous tissue. This would allow far more effective surgeries, reducing the risk of the cancer returning at a later date.

The discovery may also permit a simpler means of testing for cancerous tissue, with a treatment of the nanoparticle hybrid followed by a UV scan potentially showing tumours at their earliest stages. As time is critical in treating cancer, to ensure it does not spread, this kind of innovation could prove to be of tremendous benefit.
If this work is successful it has the potential to revolutionise cancer detection.

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