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Headaches could be cured by snake venom

Scientists have used the venom of Africa's lethal black mamba to produce a surprising outcome in mice which they hope to replicate in humans - effective pain relief without toxic side effects.

Headaches could be cured by snake venom
Photo: Benny Mazur

French researchers wrote in the journal Nature on Wednesday that peptides isolated from black mamba venom may be a safer pain killer than morphine.

In mice at least, the peptides bypass the receptors in the brain that are targeted by morphine and other opioid compounds which sometimes cause side-effects like breathing difficulties or nausea.

Nor do the peptides pose the same risk of addiction or drug abuse.

"We have identified new natural peptides, mambalgins, from the venom of the snake Black Mamba that are able to significantly reduce pain in mice without toxic effect," study co-author Anne Baron of France's Centre national de la recherche scientifique (national research institute) told AFP.

"It is remarkable that this was made possible from the deadly venom of one of the most venomous snakes," she said of the study published in the journal Nature.

"(It) is surprising that mambalgins, which represent less than 0.5% of the total venom protein content, has analgesic (pain-relief) properties without neurotoxicity in mice, whereas the total venom of black mamba is lethal and among the most neurotoxic ones."

Morphine is often regarded as the best drug to relieve severe pain and suffering, but it has several side effects and can be habit-forming.

The black mamba's venom is among the fastest acting of any snake species, and a bite will be fatal if not treated with antivenom — the poison attacking the central nervous system and causing respiratory paralysis.

Mice are among the agile adder's favourite prey in the wild in eastern and southern Africa.

Baron said researchers were confident the peptides would also work in humans "and are very interesting candidates as painkillers", but much work remains to be done.

A patent has been issued and a pharmaceutical company is examining the possibilities, she said.

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SNAKE

French firefighters called in for rogue python

Firefighters had to be called in to an apartment block in southern France after rattled residents found a python on the loose in the lobby.

French firefighters called in for rogue python
The snake, a ball python, was taken away by the fire brigade. File photo: Batwrangler/Flickr
Residents at an apartment block in Avignon, southern France, no doubt got a nasty shock after finding a python in their lobby. 
 
The snake, a python regius, measured just 30 centimetres (just shy of 12 inches) in length, but the species can grow up to around 1.8 metres. 
 
Concerned residents called the fire brigade, and emergency officers were soon on the scene, transporting the reptile to the La Barben zoo in Salon-de-Provence.
 
Coralie Lacroix, the head of the zoo, said the snake was likely abandoned by its previous owners. 
 
“Summer is often the time when we see the most cases of abandonment, it's the same for dogs and cats,” she told the La Provence newspaper on Wednesday.
 
She added that the regius python was a popular pet in France due to the fact that they are non-venemous and submissive. 
 
“People unfortunately tend to abandon them because the owners get bored with them, especially considering there's no emotional connection like there is with a more traditional kind of pet,” she added. 
 
The snake is currently under quarantine, but will likely soon call the Barben Zoo home. 
 
The python regius is also known as a “ball python” for its tendency to roll itself into a ball when threatened. Examples are more typically spotted in West Africa than in French apartment blocks. 
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