You really, really don’t want to get bitten by Bothrops asper, a pit viper commonly found in Central and South America. The myotoxins in its venom can kill if not treated quickly, and it’s one of the most common causes of snakebite in its range. But those same toxins may offer a powerful treatment for Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s is the subject of constant debate — especially when it comes to the cause — but we do know the mechanism. Plaques from a protein called amyloid beta build up in the brain due to a failure in enzymes and then block synapses, causing damage and memory loss. So researchers were looking for a way to stimulate these enzymes, and found it in the myotoxins. A peptide found in the venom can stimulate the production and activity of two key Alzheimer’s-fighting enzymes, and while it’s not a cure, it would help prevent damage and slow the decline of sufferers. We won’t have to milk pit vipers, either; a synthetic version of the peptide was just as effective in lab tests.
That said, the research team admits they’re not really clear on why, precisely, this peptide stimulates this enzyme. In fact, they note that enzyme stimulation isn’t exactly well-explored turf in biology in the first place. Knowing that mechanism is going to be key to developing other molecules and creating more effective treatments, and will likely be the focus of at least some Alzheimer’s research. In the meantime, we can debate which Alzheimer’s treatment is more awesome: Being injected with snake venom or getting your brain scoured with lasers.