A viper's venom would usually be something to steer clear of if you're at all concerned about your health, but new research suggests it may in fact boost the wellbeing of those with Alzheimer's disease. Australian scientists have discovered a molecule in this predator's poison that slows the onset of Alzheimer's, working to break down plaques in the brain that lead to dementia and typify the condition.

A protein known as amyloid beta is thought to be the main culprit behind Alzheimer's disease. In healthy people enzymes clear these proteins away naturally, but in Alzheimer's sufferers these enzymes don't perform as required, leaving the amyloid beta plaque to accumulate and damage the synapses leading to symptoms such as memory loss.

Scientists around the world have been searching for ways to slow down or halt this process, uncovering natural molecules, debris-clearing proteins and antibody-releasing implants that, with further development, may come to the rescue. As part of this collective effort, a team at Australia's Monash University were looking specifically for molecules that would boost the activity of the plaque-degrading enzymes.

Led by Dr Sanjaya Kuruppu, the team screened various snake venoms and came across one molecule in that of a Bothrops asper pit viper from South and Central America that stimulated two key plaque-fighting enzymes. The scientists also created a synthetic version of the molecule and carried out testing in the lab on human cells, finding it to be equally effective.

This is not the first time the venom of a South American viper has produced a promising drug candidate. Last year researchers developed a hydrogel that, when infused with the snake's venom, could be injected into a wound to shut down bleeding in a matter of seconds.

The Monash team next plans to test out the molecule on mouse models of Alzheimer's. Its latest research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.