Biotech Scrutiny of Venoms

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-third in a series - V is for Venoms

Here is an enlightening excerpt in our quest to study biotech as laypeople, written in 2013 by Dhananjaya Bhadrapura Lakkappa, a scientist who was then working in the Toxinology Lab, School of Chemical and Bio-Technology of SASTRA University in southern India:

Biotechnology is the application of science and technology to living organisms, as well as parts, products and models thereof, to develop useful products to improve human lives and its environment. By application of modern advanced technologies, manipulating and thus intervening the biological organisms or biological process, has thus far brought revolution in production of useful products used profitably in health care (medicine, diagnosis etc.) agriculture, animal husbandry and environmental implications, thus having a dramatic effect on the world economy and society. In these lines in the recent years the use of animal venoms and its toxins – a natural product, as a source of material for biotechnological application has received much attention from pharmaceutical industry and experts in the field of applied research. (ref)

This researcher understands his field of work and his mission, and though his English has some quirks to us, he helps us to understand the positive goals of the world-changing field of biotech with a special focus on venom toxins. In his article he explains that venoms are— “a highly evolved cocktail of biologically active proteins/peptides and other molecules… used by the organism to immobilize, capture their prey and to defend against its predators.”

He notes that the venom interacts with specific molecular targets with ‘Cruise missile’ precision, and understanding those pathways has brought new insights in biotech. He gives credit as well to ancient medical practices and homeopathy that used, for example, cobra venom to treat joint pain, inflammation and arthritis. He then catalogs numerous drugs that have been developed in labs to treat a spectrum of diseases and conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. Biotech is on the move!

Venoms of snakes, spiders and other organisms are a fertile area for the discovery of novel products with biotech and drug applications for such things as high blood pressure, cancer, immune system disorders, and syndromes like Guillain-Barre where muscle weakness ends in paralysis. It is very interesting to think of researchers using the neurotoxin of a snake that paralyzes its victim to reverse engineer its properties to prevent paralysis.

With potentially 20 million distinct venom toxins that have specific target areas and effects, and with only about 1000 of them analyzed so far by scientists, we can look for much greater help from venoms in the future.

This topic brings to mind that the snake is the symbol of healing embraced by medical societies over the ages. Although two snakes on a pole topped with wings, known as the caduceus, is mistakenly used by some societies, its mythological origin has no association with medicine or healing.

The internet mostly says that the serpent on the pole is the rod of Asclepius. In Greek mythology, he was Apollo’s son. Apollo was an important god whose domain included medicine as well as sun, light, art, music, plague, knowledge, and other areas of life.

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The cult of Asclepius became popular about 300 BC and over time the snake and the rod were combined as the expression of healing. Theories as to why this occurred include the Biblical account of Moses lifting the bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness so that if any of the rebellious, sinful Israelites would look at it, they would be healed from the snake bites enforced by God on them as discipline. This theory is what we would call the explanation. (Num 21:9)

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By Verdy p
I wonder if the thoroughly secular World Health Organization or EMS or medical societies would acknowledge that their iconic serpent on a pole pictures, ultimately, Jesus Christ, who stated, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jhn 3:14-16)

This Old Testament event foreshadowed the lifting of Christ in crucifixion, about which he said, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28)

He was explaining that he would be obedient to death and suffer cruel judgment at the Father’s Hands, becoming sin to suffer in our place. His obedience won our victory. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2Co 5:21)

The serpent is first introduced in Genesis 3 as the embodiment of Satanic evil, yet is turned from that root meaning to depict victory over sin and death when He became sin who knew no sin.

It made no sense to the Israelites to lift their eyes to the bronze serpent but they gladly did it to avoid dying. It was a step of faith.

Some commentators suggest that the bronze serpent was attached to the pole horizontally to picture the cross of Christ. We cannot know how it was presented to the Jews then.

Today, those who take the step of faith to look to Christ crucified, understand they cannot save themselves from sin. We need a Savior. And his obedience— learned by what he suffered (Heb 5:8) — gives us confidence that he knows exactly how to intercede for us.

As biotech finds healing elements in snake toxins and we celebrate new means of deliverance from diseases, let us even more shout the praises of the bronze serpent on the pole who gives us everlasting life.

Decisions, mind-bending decisons

The ABCs of Biotech for Christians - Twenty-second in a series - U is for Umbilical Cord Blood

In this biotech age many healthcare decisions must be made simply because knowledge has increased. (Dan 12:4) And though the professional guide whom you trust can fully explain your condition or that of your loved one and the available therapies, the heavy burden of decision-making is on you.

For example, the obstetrician who describes and refers for tests that a pregnant woman can take to determine whether her pre-born baby has Down Syndrome (DS), cannot advise the parents to select to abort the baby if anomalies are discovered— at least not in the USA. (In some other nations, DS children are weeded out before birth. Nearly 100% of unborn DS babies are aborted in Iceland, and Denmark is a close second with 96%.)

For most Christians this would not be an impossible decision. God would give grace to choose life and to love and enjoy the special child.

But what about choosing whether to reserve umbilical cord blood at the birth of a child? And, why would this be a hard decision? Cord blood has no embryonic stem cells.

The purpose of saving cord blood is to freeze it for future use:

“Cord blood is a rich source of blood stem cells. Stem cells are the building blocks of the blood and immune system. They have the ability to develop into other types of cells, so they can help repair tissues, organs, and blood vessels and can be used to treat a host of diseases. … Unlike the stem cells in bone marrow or peripheral blood, stem cells in cord blood are immature and haven't yet learned how to attack foreign substances. It's easier to match transplant patients with cord blood than with other sources of stem cells because the cord blood stem cells are less likely to reject the transfusion… Cord blood stem cells have been used successfully to treat more than 80 different diseases, including some cancers, blood disorders, and immune deficiencies. Among these are leukemia, aplastic anemia, Hodgkin's disease, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Cord blood transplants are also accepted as treatment for thalassemia and sickle cell anemia … and to treat rare metabolic disorders that would otherwise be fatal for infants, such as Krabbe disease and Sanfilippo syndrome … Children in clinical trials are being treated with their own cord blood for cerebral palsy …and for autism…” (ref)

The procedure is not hard. After clamping and cutting the cord, a needle is inserted into the umbilical vein on the part of the cord that is still attached to the placenta, and the blood drains into a collection bag in less than 10 minutes. The blood is then shipped to a cord blood bank where it is tested, processed and cryopreserved for long-term storage if it meets quality standards. (ibid) It can be reserved as a family resource or for the public good. Learn more about cord blood here.

Why would any Christian not do this, if not for personal use, for public donation? A simple answer is that not all hospitals or midwives offer this option. Cord blood collection services are only available in certain places. Realize, too, that an altruistic gift of cord blood will trade internationally for between $23,000 and $31,000/unit. 1

But if it is an option, a parent could still have concern whether it would be the best and right thing for the health of their baby.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends a delay of 30 to 60 seconds between delivery and cord clamping for healthy, full-term babies. It's believed that delayed clamping may be beneficial for newborns. Delayed clamping may affect the volume and quality of cells collected for donating or storing cord blood, however. (ibid, The Baby Center)

More thoroughly—

“Although clamping within a minute or less of delivery has become widely accepted as part of active management of the final stage of labor, there’s increasing concern among obstetricians that it deprives the baby of up to 60 percent of red blood cells and 30 percent of blood volume. For a full-term infant, allowing full placental flow gives the baby an additional 80 to 100 milliliters of blood. A series of clinical trials found that delayed clamping could reduce the risk of anemia, chronic lung disease, brain hemorrhage, sepsis, and eye disease in later life. While early clamping slams the brakes on hard and fast, ‘leaving the umbilical cord unclamped allows a period of transition between the fetal and adult circulations… thereby easing the newborn into extrauterine life.’” 2

But, to reiterate, if clamped too late, not enough stem cells are residual in the cord blood to make it valuable.

Thus, we see the dilemma that a parent must confront, desiring to do the right thing and to trust the professionals, yet having enough knowledge to doubt whether it is advisable, and not being sure.

As with all deep needs for wisdom, we pray for discernment and, if at all possible, to avoid last-minute decisions that may later haunt ones conscience and emotions. Expectant parents need our prayers.

It will help to memorize James 1:5 for those who need help with decision making.

1. Donna Dickenson, ME Medicine vs. WE Medicine, (Columbia University Press, 2013), 101.
2. Ibid, 99.

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...and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind ... the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind ...the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. -Genesis 1


A SistersSite eBook

Flesh and Bone and The Protestant Conscience is an e-book on It is 99¢ and in the Amazon lending library as well. It is also available here in PDF format. The book description follows.

Would you let your conscience be your guide?

Does God care if the skin and bone of the dead are passed along to the living for medical uses? Is organ donation OK with God? Should you sign a Living Will?

Did you know that dead organ donors are often anesthetized before their organs are removed? Do you know the current definition of death? The conscience cannot function without facts.

As we ponder the ethics of in vitro fertilization, stem cell research and man-made chimeras, our thoughts trail off. How then should we live? (Ez 33:10)

How should a Christian think about euthanasia by starvation when doctors and the state attorney general all agree it is time to withhold feeding from a brain injured patient? Some things are family matters, but someday it may be our family.

Here is a small book to help you think about whether you want to sign your driver's license, donate a kidney, cremate your loved one, and many other practical questions that may arise in the course of your healthcare decisions or watch over others.

It offers a special focus on the doctrine of the Resurrection that is related to such decisions. Sunday School classes and Bible Study groups could use this book to facilitate discussion about the issues covered.