Cobra receptors have a unique sugar molecule that acts as an umbrella, blocking the toxin from binding to the receptor. Remove that molecule and the cobra becomes toxin-sensitive. Add it to a mouse, and the mouse becomes toxin-resistant.
The ability to act on vital targets with that degree of precision makes toxins an ideal model for new drugs. But isolating a specific toxin to fight a specific disease is an extremely tedious, multiyear process, largely due to the small number of toxins that can be isolated from any given venomuntil now.
At the University, Takacs with biophysicist Steve Goldstein, recently developed the state-of-the-art "Designer-Toxin" technology allowing the creation of "toxin libraries" with a potential to contain up to millions of toxin variants ready to screen.
"By screening the variants," he said, "you can determine which one will specifically act on the vital target that determines the outcome of a disease. That knowledge is a powerful tool in converting a toxin into a drug."
"Our technology lets you make millions of different keys, try them all at once, and isolate the single one that fits the lock. Problems with side effects occur because drugs are acting on more than one target. With our method, your key will open one lock, but not any others."
He predicts the technology will be useful in developing toxin-based drugs for various diseases, from cancer to circulatory disorders. "The particular toxin we're working with now looks promising for autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and diabetes," he said.
Analyzing venom may confine Takacs to a lab, but collecting it takes him to the far corners of the world. "Since I need venom and DNA samples from snakes, their pr
|Contact: John Easton|
University of Chicago Medical Center