Herpetologist and toxinologist Zoltan Takacs, PhD, a research associate and assistant professor at the University of Chicago, has been named to the 2010 class of National Geographic Emerging Explorers. Takacs, who combines his interest in drug development with exotic travel, venomous snakes and professional photography, is one of 14 "visionary, young trailblazers" from around the world making a "significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration while still early in their careers."
The Emerging Explorers each receive a $10,000 award to assist with research and to aid further exploration.
"National Geographic's mission is to inspire people to care about the planet," said Terry Garcia, National Geographic's executive vice president for Mission Programs. "Our Emerging Explorers are outstanding young leaders whose endeavors further this mission. We are pleased to support them as they set out on promising careers. They represent tomorrow's Edmund Hillarys, Jacques Cousteaus and Dian Fosseys."
Fascinated from a young age with nature, Takacs captured and bred snakes in his room as a boy (and fortunately recaptured one viper that escaped to his parents' bedroom for a few days). He studied pharmacology in Hungary, then earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York.
He studies animal venoms, usually from snakes. Such toxins "are the source of over a dozen medications," Takacs said, "including drugs to treat high blood pressure, heart failure, heart attack, diabetes, and chronic pain." They have evolved to be perfect killers, he said, "but the same snake that can kill you, can cure you."
The purpose of venom is to immobilize and kill. It aims precisely at vital targets, including the connections between nerve and muscle cells, or the circulatory system. Toxin-target contact can cause respiratory paralysis or shock.
If this contact is disrupted, the toxin has no effect. When venom is injecte
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University of Chicago Medical Center