Snake venom is no doubt poisonous, but it helps in the treatment of human immunodeficiency virus that has developed resistance to anti retroviral drugs.
People living with HIV, who do not respond to drugs, have been found with improved immunity after treatment with snake venom. It has also been observed that snake venom attacks the virus, making it ineffective.
A group of clinician-scientists from Madras Medical College, Chennai, Chennai Medical College Hospital and Research Centre, Trichy, in association with the University of Debrecen Medical and Health Science Centre, Hungary, has evaluated the probable mechanisms of venoms against HIV. The team comprised Dr Ramachandran Meenakshisundaram, Dr Sweni Shah and Dr Ponniah Thirumalaikolundusubramanian.
Dr Ramachandran told this correspondent that properties and components of snake venom such as sequence homology and enzymes may have an effect on membrane protein and/or act against HIV at multiple levels on cells carrying HIV virus resulting in enhanced effect of anti-retroviral therapy. This may cause a decrease in viral load and improvement in clinical as well as immunological status.
Stating that insect venom too has potential anti-viral activity through inhibition of virion entry into the cells, he said the study need to be further evaluated to establish the role of venom against HIV as an independent one or as a supplement.
The team took up the study of anti-HIV activity of snake venom, after it found that a person living with HIV, who was not responding to anti-retroviral treatment, showed signs of increased immunity after he was bitten by a snake.
In this case the snake venom might have reduced HIV load, thereby decreasing its effect and enhancing the CD4 count. "Hopefully, the use of venom preparation or a synthetic molecule similar to snake/insect venom/human secretions without adverse effects may open a new era of anti-retroviral therapy against HIV or act as an adjuvant not only for HIV but also to other viral infections," he said.
Interestingly, Dr Ramachandran said insect venom and human secretions also have anti-HIV activity.
Snake venom contains Phospholipase A2, a substance that protects human primary blood leukocytes from the replication of various macrophage and T cell-tropic human immunodeficiency virus 1 strains. Immunokine, an oxidised derivative of alpha-cobra toxin, has been shown to inhibit the infection of lymphocytes by HIV and feline immunodeficiency virus.