By Dillon Thomas

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – A team of scientists at the University of Northern Colorado believe venom from venomous snakes could carry the cure to cancer. Dr. Stephen Mackessy, professor at UNC’s School of Biology, says studies show venoms in different snakes can attack human cancer cells in unique ways.

(credit: CBS)

To conduct the study, Mackessy’s students are given access to hundreds of snakes from around the world, all of which are stored in a secured facility on the campus of UNC. From rattlesnakes to vipers, the students are able to extract venom from each snake to study the compounds and proteins.

“These are compounds that have evolved to kill other animals, and kill things … in general, wreak havoc with living systems,” Mackessy told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas. “It turns out they are actually a very logical place to look for therapeutics.”

Mackessy said that when sharing his studies with the public, many times people automatically think of the dangers venomous snakes come with. However, most don’t consider the benefits the reptiles can offer to humans.

“People tend to have a visceral reaction to snakes in general,” Mackessy said.

(credit: CBS)

Snake venoms have been used since the 1950s to treat things like high blood pressure in millions of people around the globe. However, Mackessy said his lab is one of the first to research the possible uses of venom compounds to battle various forms of cancer.

“When you think about looking for a therapeutic drug, you don’t turn first to something like a venom or toxin as a source,” Mackessy said.

PhD candidate Tanner Harvey has specifically been researching viper venoms, some of which come from habitats as close as southern Arizona. Each venom, in different doses, reacts to cancers uniquely.

“(One viper venom) kills breast cancer really quickly at low doses. And, it kills colon cancer at low doses. But, it doesn’t kill melanoma,” Harvey said.

However, other venoms strongly react to melanoma.

Killing the cancer with venom isn’t hard. It’s not killing the patient at the same time that’s the challenge. The team at UNC said their challenge is finding which compounds can be combined with other remedies to kill cancer efficiently, while preserving other life-dependent cells.

“(Finding the proper doses and mixes) is just like panning for gold,” Harvey said.

The study is still in preliminary phases. Once the team feels they have a solid answer to which venom compounds are safe to battle cancer with, the research would press on to one day potentially meet clinical studies.

(credit: CBS)

When asked if students at UNC were capable of finding the cure to cancers, Mackessy said they were well on their way toward that direction.

“There is no question they have the ability to make that kind of contribution,” Mackessy said.

While Mackessy’s team is working toward the goal of curing cancers, another takeaway from their research was also offered. Both Mackessy and Harvey hope their research will encourage the public to stop senselessly killing snakes simply out of fear. While both said they understood human instinct to fear a snake’s ability to take life, they hoped the public would ultimately come to value the snake’s ability to preserve life at the same time.

“You never really know what is going to come from a natural source, even something like a rattlesnake,” Mackessy said. “It may be, in fact, that these dangerous animals house in their venom something that one day may be lifesaving for you, or your family members.”

Dillon Thomas

Comments (14)
  1. Paula P. says:

    Thank You Dillion Thomas for the information. Please keep up to date on any progress they are making with the snake venom. Many people are praying this will work for many types of cancer. The sooner the better. Snake venom has worked for high blood pressure & other health problems so it could be the cure for cancer. Also if you would do a segment on the Bee therapy would be fantastic. Thanks again.

  2. What studies exactly? Until these findings are published in a peer reviewed major medical journal or presented at a renowned oncology conference this is UNC PR hype with no factual basis. This is unfair to cancer patients and their families everywhere who are looking for hope for a cure. Shoddy journalism and the true meaning of fake news.

  3. Bob Unger says:

    Nothing new here. Snake venom has cured cancer since the mid-nineteenth century, when homeopathic physicians used the venom of the bushmaster snake (Lachesis), the coral snake (Elaps), the cobra (Naja), the rattle skake (Crotalus), the water mocassin (Ancistrodon), and many others for cancer. Each has different indications. For more information please read Dr. Manfred Mueller’s Homeopathic Cancer Drugs from
    It contains over 600 natural proven cancer medicines that have been used to treat and cure cancer.

    1. Tom says:

      Thanks Bob for the site reference I’m going to check it out as my wife has been suffering from an auto immune disorder for years and it seems like all the doctors want to do is perscribe her anti-depression drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. Nothing has worked. Only made it much worse. There has to be an obvious natural solution.

      1. sam says:

        Colloidal silver kills cancer according to NIH.g o v

        Why not promote what has been tested and effective?

      2. sam says:

        Auto immune is from mercury, usually from “silver” dental fillings which are mostly mercury.
        If they called them mercury fillings people would say hell no.
        Solution is Andrew Cutler protocol.

        1. Danielle Peck says:

          Sam, my son has no fillings in his teeth at all- no cavities at 26 years old- yet he has 3 auto-immune diseases- Celiac, Hashimoto Thyroid, and Type 1 Diabetes.

          Your comment is very generalized and obviously wrong.

  4. Indy Jones says:

    Research is great, but this story is overhyped. Cancer has been “cured” in test tubes or mice many times, but there is a bug difference between that and a drug that human patients can take safely and see good results. Nothing in this article makes it sound like these people are clse. If anything, it reads like it was written by the snakes’ PR department. I say keep researching for a cure and keep killing snakes because we aren’t running out of them.

  5. Chuck says:

    “…from rattlesnakes to vipers…”

    Rattlesnakes ARE vipers.

  6. Bee venom therapy has been used for thousands of years (BVT), same principal. much smaller amount of venom, micro grams, very effective, I had painful knees, arthritic type symptoms, a history of auto-immune… all gone, I did many many therapies, self induced, I think it is effective for all auto-immune problems, cancer, way beyond my scope but, it can’t hurt (actually it hurts, but you get over it)…

  7. Sam Green says:

    This wouldn’t surprise me. A few years back I was doing apiary R&D and had bee feeders that I could easily refill without agitating the bees, sometimes a hundred or more on the feeders.

    Never needed a bee suit, a veil or any protective equipment. Then one day when the tray was nearly empty I started to pick it up to refill it, and in an instant dozens of bees went on the defensive and at least four or five dozen bees envenomated my right arm (which was touching the feeder) in a blink of an eye. Been stung before, but never en masse all at once.

    What happened was a colony of Africanized bees honed in on the European bee feeding station. I say they were Africanized or African hybridized bees because they chased me 100′ through thick brush. European bees will chase you, but give up quickly and thick brush usually stops them, not that day. BUT THIS HAS A HAPPY ENDING.

    I got hurt in the military. Spent months and months in a high trauma hospital. The years of rehab and walking with a cane had given me tennis elbow. After getting stung by dozens of bees that day, the tennis elbow disappeared for 3 to 4 months. I then tried bee venom therapy to my affected elbow, and all pain disappeared to this day, that was years ago. So to say snake venom could do miraculous things, would not surprise me one bit.

    Plus the African bees in my area have been interbreeding with gentler local European bees, and that’s a good thing. Now they’re less aggressive in my area.

  8. Anne Plaks says:

    Shut up. There is a cure for cancer, but Big Pharma will take your license away from you if you cure someone naturally. There is much money to be made from cancer drugs that kill you.

    1. Roger Pointer says:

      And cars can get 100+ miles per gallon but big oil won’t let it…REALLY?
      “Cancer” is a bit of a generic term for many types of cell mutations. There would need to be many cures that Big Pharma is suppressing. Not logical… but why be logical?.

    2. fr gough says:

      Cancer is cured all the time. I personally know five people who have been cured of cancer.

Leave a Reply