New therapy could temporarily offset snake venom

A newly developed injection could stave off the effects of snakebite venom long enough to give victims time to get to a hospital.
By Chad Young | Oct 17, 2017
Dr. Vance Nielsen, a researcher at the University of Arizona, has created a new therapy that could one day be used to help treat rattlesnake bites.

The new treatment -- which is administered in the same way as an EpiPen -- will be injected into a snakebite victim to give them more time to reach a hospital.

In general, snake venom attacks the human body in multiple ways. Not only is it extremely harmful to the nervous system, but it also interferes with normal blood function by causing clotting or coagulation. Such problems can then lead to heart attack or stroke. For those reasons, the minutes directly after the bite are crucial.

To help with that time frame, the new therapy injects carbon monoxide into the venom in order to directly block its effects.

"There's a gigantic body of literature about how carbon monoxide can make things better or worse in human medicine," said Nielsen, according to ABC News. "I was looking at the coagulation angle of it."

Early trials conducted in test tubes showed the therapy stops 36 different kinds of venom from interacting with animal and human plasma. Additional trials conducted on live animals then revealed the therapy lasted at least an hour. There is a chance the treatment goes beyond that time frame, but Nielsen has not conducted any such experiments just yet.

Now that the method has proved to be successful, the next step it to test a more EpiPen-like application that will inject directly into the bitten area. While that could be a big step towards fighting snakebites, it is important to note that the new therapy is not made to replace antivenom. Rather, it just aims to keep poisonous parts of the venom inactive and lessen damage to the victim's body until they can be administered a true antidote.

"A therapy that could safely and effectively buy patients more time to reach a treatment center would be really useful for victims who live in rural areas, or for backcountry hikers," explained Shelley Litten, a spokeswoman for the Southern Arizona Rescue Association, in an email to The Arizona Daily Star.

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