Life Science Wizards Speaker Series
February 25, 2016
The Therapeutic Charm of Snakes
Join Foley Lardner and LabCentral for our next Life Sciences Wizards Series with explorer and pharmacologist Dr. Zoltan Takacs.
Dr. Takacs will discuss how nature's deadliest animals — snakes, scorpions, spiders, and others — take 100,000 human lives a year, yet they are also the biggest lifesavers in the animal kingdom. There are 20 medicines taken by over 40 million patients for heart attack, high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, and chronic pain that are derived from animal venoms — including two of the three medicines of choice used for the most lethal types of heart attacks.
The success of venoms in medicine is rooted in millions of years of evolutionary wisdom. Venoms have evolved to immobilize and kill prey and predators in seconds; their toxins target key physiological processes with extreme strength and precision. However, the vast majority of the world's animal venoms, an arsenal of 20,000,000 toxins found in 150,000 animal species, remain unseen and unexplored. With advances in genomics, proteomics, and high throughput screening, the large-scale exploration of toxins for medical discovery is now becoming a reality.
Dr. Takacs specializes in drug discovery from animal venoms, and is the founder of the World Toxin Bank project. Developed at the University of Chicago, he is the co-inventor of the Designer Toxins technology, a toxin-genomics drug discovery platform that generates millions of toxin variants and selects those that specifically aim at disease targets. His work resulted in scorpion toxin leads for the ion channel implicated in autoimmune disorders. Passionate about venomous animals and exploration since childhood, he has traveled to 147 countries, is an aircraft pilot, scuba diver, and survivor of multiple snakebites. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, was a researcher at Rockefeller University and Yale University, and was a on the faculty at the University of Chicago before launching the World Toxin Bank. He is a former fellow of the Columbia Earth Institute, an International Union for Conservation of Nature specialist, and emerging explorer of the National Geographic Society. Dr. Takacs' work on animal venoms has been featured in the National Geographic magazine, on the National Geographic channel, as well as on BBC, CNN, and PBS/NOVA.