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Poison to cure?


Australia is home to some of the world’s most venomous creatures: spiders, snakes and jellyfish with global infamy.

But in a glorious irony, the properties that make these venoms so deadly are precisely what makes them a force for good in medicine.

Dr John Miles, head of QIMR Berghofer’s Human Immunity Laboratory, says venoms are a seemingly perfect drug.

“The fast acting peptide fragments within venoms target vital molecules in our bodies and work like keys in a lock,” Dr Miles said.

“Venoms can turn biological pathways, cells and even whole organs on and off like switches.”

Given these unique abilities, a number of venom-based drugs are already in clinical trials for chronic pain and heart disease.

Now, thanks to the 2013 Rio Tinto Ride to Conquer Cancer, Dr Miles has received funding to explore the ability of snake, cone snail, hookworm and jellyfish venom to control our body’s immune system, and potentially play a role in cancer treatments.

“If venom based drugs can be harnessed to control immune system function, we could open treatments for cancer and across a plethora of human diseases,” Dr Miles said.

“Just like a volume knob on a stereo, we could turn the power of the immune system down to one to silence autoimmune disease and turn it all the way up to 11 to kill cancers.”

Dr Miles’ study is one of a series of new research projects which received funding from the 2013 Rio Tinto Ride to Conquer Cancer.

More than 1,236 riders helped raise over $4.2 million for QIMR Berghofer in the third annual ride on 17-18 August last year.

Other projects funded by the 2013 Ride include research into:

  • Individualised treatments for blood cancer
  • New strategies to detect and treat brain cancer
  • Patterns of care and quality of life for pancreatic cancer patients
  • Combination therapies for melanoma
  • A potential new treatment for prostate cancer
  • Blocking breast cancer’s spread by binding a drug to the tumour surface
  • Provoking an immune reaction in cancers
  • Identifying new targets to stop the spread of lung cancer

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