Letters to the Editor
A ‘VENOMOUS’ VOCATION
The Press calls me “Toxin man” and cite examples of my adventures with snakes, scorpions and the like, and it makes one wonder what happened to the red capes and movie deals ala Superman style. I take these references with a smile and at times with pride, but I suppose it might be a while before the action figures come out on sale.
The medical research that I conduct at NUS involves the extraction of venom from snakes such as the King Cobra and vipor as well as from varieties of scorpions and venomous spiders. Following an extensive purification process, the tests are conducted to examine the effect of the venom on skeletal muscle, the liver and certain other specific organs of mammals and the potential efficacy of the venom as a clinically safe medical drug is then hypothesized, researched, theorized and the chemical structure is modified to make it safe for usage on human patients. This may sound highly simplified but the extraction process itself, as painstaking as it sounds, almost requires the patience of a saint. And hence as I grow older, I prefer buying the venoms from professional herpertologists instead. I suppose it makes my insurance agent a whole lot happier.
My love for nature started very early in my childhood. My father, a school principal, was often transferred from school to school and I thus had the wonderful opportunity to explore a vasr variety of Nature Reserves. Bird watching was something that I picked up during this time, and my pets ranged from deers, parrots, peacocks to snakes and spiders. It was this interest in snakes which stayed on with me, even throughout my medical studies and career that finally ended in the marriage of Hobby and Occupation, resulting in the medical toxicology research that I ended up being involved in. And working with these magnificent creatures is definetly something I enjoy. No snake leather belts and wallets for me though; I guess that’s professional courtesy for you.
Finding the beauty in the beast, searching for the gift of life form within the killer, that is basically the seed of what I do. And when the search reaps its rewards, the victory is not just for medical science and pharmaceutical companies. It is especially for the highly intelligent and beautiful creatures they call snakes. For alas I may help a childhood friend prove his real worth.
Dr P Gopalakrishnakone
Chairman of Venom and Toxin Research Group