An ancient remedy could provide relief for today's arthritis patients.Stockbyte/Jupiter Images
In 2002, arthritis sufferer Joe de Casa was working in his Northamptonshire garden in England when a venomous snake bit him. After surviving the bite, de Casa, who struggles with arthritis, claimed that the following months provided his only pain-free days in years.
Such anecdotal claims, including teachings in India's centuries' old Ayurveda traditional medicine system, may hold some truth. Venom from cobras may not only treat arthritis, but also prevent further damage from the condition.
Scientists have just determined that Indian monocellate cobra venom displayed anti-arthritic activity during lab tests on rodents, according to a paper that will be in the February-March issue of the journal Toxicon.
While clinical trials on humans are still needed, a cobra venom arthritis ointment is in the works, lead author Antony Gomes told Discovery News.
"We have already prepared such an oil-based preparation (for topical application), which is showing very promising results on humans," Gomes, a professor of physiology at the University of Calcutta, said.
"As soon as the patent protocol (period) is over, we wish to go for industrial collaboration for marketing," he added.
For the study, Gomes and his colleagues induced arthritis in lab rats by injecting them with a saline and olive oil solution containing tuberculosis bacteria, which can cause arthritis.
The researchers collected Indian monocellate cobra venom from adult males and females housed at Calcutta Snake Park. The team then administered a nonlethal dose of venom to some of their lab rodents.
Rats without the venom treatment suffered from cartilage damage and swollen limbs. These symptoms, however, were not present in the venom-treated rats, based on paw weight and measurements.
Chemical analysis, according to the researchers, revealed that the venom actually prevented cartilage damage by inhibiting collagen breakdown. Collagen is one of the main proteins found in skin, bone and other parts of the body.
Gomes believes venom from other snake species, such as those in the Elapidae family, should also combat arthritis. This family includes relatively tiny crowned snakes to the king cobra, which is the world's longest venomous snake, measuring up to 18.5 feet in length.
Venom from other animals and insects, such as bees, may also fight arthritis.-landing-aircraft-design.html"]bees, may also fight arthritis.
Jin Tae Hong of South Korea's Chungbuk National University and his team determined that bee venom also treats rats with induced inflammatory arthritis.
"Our data show that the anti-arthritic effects of bee venom are related to the anti-inflammatory effects of bee venom," Tae Hong said.
Inflammation is the body's response to injury or irritation, so it might be in the best interest of a venomous snake or insect to prevent this process in order to make the venom more potent.
Each year, tens of thousands of people worldwide die from snakebites, so researchers continue to try to isolate beneficial components from otherwise deadly venoms.