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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Cobra Venom Raises Its Numbing Head at Racetracks

Big news published by the Daily Racing Form today: A recent raid of the tack room of French trainer Patrick Biancone at Keeneland Racecourse in Lexington, Kentucky netted a little vial marked "Toxin". Inside was a small amount of crystallized cobra venom. His veterinarian's truck was also searched.

Cobra venom injections are legendary at US racetracks but there has been little proof until recently that they are anything more than legends.

Think: an injectable temporary chemical neurectomy.

The DRF describes: "Cobra venom is a powerful neurotoxin that blocks the neural pathways that transmit pain to the brain. The substance, which is used by researchers in extremely minute quantities because of its toxicity, is considered a Class 1 drug under the Racing Commissioners International classification system."

Last week, two men pleaded guilty in New York state for the crime of injecting Standardbreds with cobra venom.

Lyndi Gilliam, DVM at Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Services is working on a test to detect cobra venom in horse urine but apparently there is no current test to detect it.

Another rumored painkiller used in horse's feet is the oceanic cone snail's venom.

Cobras are intensively farmed in Viet Nam; their meat is also eaten. One farm exported 50 tons of cobra meat to China last year. Cobras are almost extinct in the wild because they are so valuable on the Chinese market. In Florida, there are several cobra "farms" as well, primarily producing venom for research use.

Cobra venom is deadly, of course, if a human or horse is attacked by the snake. But did you know that cobras themselves are immune to the venom? Their bloodsteams contain molecules that neutralize the venom. And the molecule is based on a single amino acid. That's the only difference. The amino acid creates a sugar molecule that prevents the neurotoxin from affecting the snake. National Geographic has a great article about cobra venom research and all it may teach us about human medicine.

Tell me this: if cobras are valuable snakes, who has the job of milking them? And how do they do it?

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