Snake Venom Slows Tumor Growth

BOSTON, Mass.-- A protein found in copperhead snake venom dramatically retards breast tumor growth by both blocking tumor cell adhesion and invasion, as well as inhibiting new blood vessel development in the tumors, according to a research report presented here today at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Tumors need blood vessels to deliver nutrients necessary for their continued growth, says Francis Markland, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, who reported the findings to colleagues attending this week-long meeting of the world's largest scientific society.

In studies with mice implanted with human breast cancer cells, Markland's research group found a 60 - 70 percent reduction in the growth rate of the breast tumors and a 90 percent reduction of tumor metastasis to the lungs of animals treated with the protein contortrostatin (CN), purified from the venom of the southern copperhead.

"Metastasis is a significant problem with breast cancer," Markland says. When first diagnosed with breast cancer, he says, the majority of women already have metastatic disease, which means the cancer has spread to another site such as the lymph nodes, brain, bone or other part of the body.

CN belongs to a class of proteins known as disintegrins, called that because they disrupt the function of certain other proteins, called integrins, on the surface of cells. Integrins are involved in the adhesive phenomenon of cells. CN is effective in retarding the spread of tumor cells because it inhibits their adhesion to and invasion of normal cells in the surrounding tissue. Preliminary studies done by Markland's group have shown that CN also can inhibit growth of other types of cancers.

Markland's research, supported in part by a California sales tax on tobacco products, indicates that CN is cytostatic rather than cytotoxic. In other words, CN does not kill the tumor cells, but instead puts

Contact: Nancy Blount
(202) 872-4440
American Chemical Society

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