BETHESDA, Md., July 29, 2010 Researchers seeking to learn more about stroke by studying how the body responds to toxins in snake venom are this week releasing new findings that they hope will aid in the development of therapies for heart disease and, surprisingly, cancer.
The Japanese team is reporting in a Journal of Biological Chemistry "Paper of the Week" that they are optimistic that inhibiting a protein found on the surface of blood cells known as platelets may combat both irregular blood clotting and the spread of certain cancers throughout the body.
"The finding that platelets not only play a role in blood clotting but also in the development of vessels that allow tumors to flourish was quite unexpected and paves the way for new research on the role or roles of platelets," says Katsue Suzuki-Inoue, the associate professor at the University of Yamanashi who oversaw the 13-person team's work in professor Yukio Ozaki's laboratory.
About platelets, blood clots and stroke
Under normal conditions, platelets are activated to become sticky when blood vessels are injured, and their clumping together (aggregation or clotting) naturally stops bleeding. But, irregular platelet aggregation caused by disease can lead to dangerous clots or even stroke if a clot clogs or bursts in a vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
"When a blood clot, or thrombus, forms during the body's normal repair process, it's doing its job," says Suzuki-Inoue. "But, thrombotic diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, are leading causes of death in developed countries. Understanding and manipulating the underlying chemical reactions could help us save many lives."
But what does this have to do with snake venom? It's sort of a long story.
How venom can prevent or cause clotting
"Snake venom contains a vast number of toxins that target proteins in platelets," says Yonchol Shin, a
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American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology