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Scorpion venom has the potential to reduce the rate of heart bypass failures, researchers at Leeds University have found.
A study published online in Cardiovascular Research shows toxin in the sting of the Central American bark scorpion (Centruroides margaritatus) can be used to prevent the most common cause of bypass graft failures – and is more than 100 times more potent at doing so than any other known compound.
Margatoxin can be used to suppress neointimal hyperplasia, which is a blood vessel’s natural response to injury.
Professor David Beech, from the university’s Faculty of Biological Sciences, explained how when a vein is grafted on to the heart during a bypass procedure the injury response kicks in as the vein tries to adapt to the new environment and different circulatory pressures.
This growth of new cells helps to strengthen the vein, but the internal cell growth restricts blood flow and ultimately causes the graft to fail.
Professor Beech said the potency of the margatoxin in suppressing the injury response took the team by surprise.
He said: “It’s staggeringly potent. We’re talking about needing very few molecules in order to obtain an effect.”
Professor Beech, who is Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology in the Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology, said margatoxin would probably be unsuitable as a drug that could be swallowed, inhaled or injected. But he said it could potentially be taken forward as a spray-on treatment to the vein itself once it has been removed and is waiting to be grafted onto the heart.
Leeds University said the research was funded by the British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.
Copyright Press Association 2010