One Anti-Venom Against All Snakes?

Snake Bite. Photo by Marcelkudla

Are scientists close to developing a universal Anti-Venom that could be effective against all venomous snakes in sub-Saharan Africa?

According to news reports in England, scientists from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) are currently using a new technique called ‘antivenomics’ to increase the potency of venom extraction, in the hopes of creating a new universal anti-venom for all venomous snakes in the sub-Saharan Africa.

There are more than 30,000 deaths in Africa every year, due to snake bites, and lack of effective snake bite first aid. More than 90,000 people are disabled because they do not get adequate snake bite treatment. A revolutionary universal anti-venom could save thousands of lives each year.

According to the head of LSTM, Dr. Robert Harrison, there are over 20 species of venomous snakes in the Sub-Saharan Africa. When victims arrive to the hospital, Doctors usually rely on the victim’s description of the snake, so they can decide how to proceed the treatment. Most victims cannot supply an accurate description, and therefore doctors usually give them a broad-spectrum anti-venom that will cover all the possible snake species. However, this broad-spectrum anti-venom is extremely expensive, and often not even available. In addition, the broad-spectrum anti-venom may increase the chances of side effects.

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The main problem with producing anti-venoms, is that they are limited in quantity due to the tedious methods of extracting them: The venom is first extracted from various venomous snakes, and then injected into livestock, which in turn – produce antibodies that are later extracted from the animal’s blood, in order to create the anti-venom.

Now, LSTM, which inhabits 400 snakes and extracts venom from reptiles each week, is working together with the Institute de Biomedicina de Valencia in Spain and the Instituto Clodomiro Picado in Costa Rica, in order to change the current situation, and produce a low-cost universal anti-venom, that could be used against all venomous snakes in the sub-Saharan Africa. The plan is to use proteins from all their extracted venom and add stabilizing chemicals, so it withstands extreme heat.

Interested in more details? You can visit the website of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM).

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