Molecular gel to halt spread of snake venom cut treatment cost


Researchers have developed a novel molecular gel that could neutralise deadly snake venom more cheaply and effectively than with traditional anti-venom — an innovation that could spare millions of people the loss of life or limbs each year.

Worldwide, an estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by snakes annually, 2.7 million suffer crippling injuries and more than 100,000 die, most of them farmworkers and children in poor, rural parts of India and sub-Saharan Africa with little healthcare.

The existing treatment requires slow intravenous infusion at a hospital and costs up to $100,000. And the antidote only halts the damage inflicted by a small number of species.

“Current anti-venom is very specific to certain snake types. Ours seems to show broad-spectrum ability to stop cell destruction across species on many continents, and that is quite a big deal,” said lead of the study Jeffrey O’Brien from University of California, Irvine in the US.

Zeroing in on protein families common to many serpents, the researchers described in a study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society that the new solution could halt the worst effects of cobras and kraits in Asia and Africa, as well as pit vipers in North America.

The team synthesised a polymer nanogel material that binds to several key protein toxins, keeping them from bursting cell membranes and causing widespread destruction.

The venom is absorbed onto the surface of nanoparticles in the new material and is permanently sequestered there, “diverted from doing harm”, explained senior author of the paper Kenneth Shea, Professor at University of California, Irvine.

Thanks to the use of readily available, nonpoisonous components, the “nanodote” has a long shelf life and costs far less, the researchers said.

“Our treatment costs pennies on the dollar and, unlike the current one, requires no refrigeration,” O’Brien said.