Venom from a poisonous snake could be developed to make a drug to treat cancer, scientists in Hong Kong said.
Tests on a protein taken from the venom of the sharp-nosed viper have shown it can reduce the size of colorectal tumours in mice by up to 28% within a month.
The six-month study involving 18 cancerous mice was carried out by researchers at Hong Kong Baptist University.
In a separate study involving chicken embryos, researchers also discovered the protein, called ZK002, could reduce the growth of capillaries which feed nutrients to cancer tumours helping them grow.
Assess effectiveness on other cancers
Project coordinator Wendy Hsiao Wen-luan said suppressing these capillaries would have the effect of starving the tumour.
The preliminary findings have won the research team a further R4 million in funding from the government's innovation and technology fund and Lee's Pharmaceuticals Holdings Ltd.
Hsiao said the next stage would be to validate the findings, clone the protein and assess whether it was also effective against other forms of cancer.
Coloretal cancer rising in Hong Kong
The sharp-nosed viper is found in China and has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Colorectal cancer, also known as bowel cancer, is one of the most common cancers in developed countries with diets rich in red meats and animal fats being considered one of the risk factors.
In Hong Kong, the number of cases has been rising rapidly as the city switches to more fatty Western-style foods. Colorectal cancer accounts for 16.4% of all cancer new cases, causing 1,686 deaths in 2008, second only to lung cancer which killed 3,497.
(Sapa, December 2011)