Animal testing will no longer be required to assess a group of deadlyneurotoxins, thanks to University of Queensland-led research.

Associate Professor Bryan Fry, of UQ’s Venom Evolution Lab, said a newtechnique could replace conventional methods of testing paralytic neurotoxins,which previously required euthanasia of test subjects.

“The old method, while extremely efficient, is limited in that it’s slow andrequires the euthanisation of animals in order to obtain the necessarytissue,” Dr Fry said.

“Our new method uses optical probes dipped into a solution containing thevenoms and we measure the binding to these probes – the critical factor – byanalysing changes in the light reflected back.

“It’s going to reduce the numbers of animals used for research testing, but italso has significant biomedical implications.”

Testing and trialling paralytic neurotoxins is not only critical for researchinto anti-venoms, but also for the treatment of a wide array of diseases andconditions.

“The team can now – without the use of animal subjects – screen venoms fornon-target activities that may be relevant for drug design and development,helping treat all types of ailments,” Dr Fry said.

“For example, we’ve showed that temple pit viper venom has an unusual cross-reactivity for the human alpha-5 receptor, which is a major target forconditions including colitis and smoking.

“Who knows what other potential treatments the world’s venoms could lead to –we’re excited to find out.”

The technology relies on the development of synthetic peptides that correspondto nerve receptors, which tell our muscles to contract.

“Neurotoxins, found in the venom of many types of snakes, cause paralysis byattaching to nerve receptors in our muscles, preventing the normal chemicalbinding process that naturally occurs in our bodies when we want to move,” DrFry said.

“This is what stops a mouse fleeing from a snake after it has been bitten.

“Since venoms bind to the synthetic peptides more vigorously than they do tohuman nerves, we’re also investigating a new treatment of snakebite, usingthese peptides as ‘decoys’.

“The venom would bind to them instead of their original nervous system targetin the human body.

“Many species of deadly snake lack an effective anti-venom, so these sorts ofapplications may help meet this critical need.

“This underscores the flexibility of this novel technique and why we’re soexcited about this breakthrough.”

The research has been published in Toxins (DOI: 10.3390/toxins11100600).

Image: A temple pit viper from Gombak Valley, Malaysia (Credit:Scientistchic).

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