Research could buy time for snake bite victims

A researcher at the University of Arizona is experimenting with a new therapy to help treat rattlesnake bites.

Dr. Vance G. Nielsen hopes that once it is ready for humans, the therapy will be administered like an EpiPen, injected into a snakebite victim in the field to buy the person valuable time to get to the hospital for anti-venom treatments.

Nielsen, a professor and vice chair for research in the University of Arizona Department of Anesthesiology and the College of Medicine, said generally, venom is harmful to the nervous system and can interfere with the normal function of blood.

In the case of blood, snake venom will either cause clotting, called coagulation, which can lead to heart attack or stroke; or it can inhibit clotting, called anti-coagulation, causing excessive bleeding, the Arizona Daily Star reported .

The therapy includes injecting carbon monoxide into the venom directly to block its effects.

“There’s a gigantic body of literature about how carbon monoxide can make things better or worse in human medicine. I was looking at the coagulation angle of it,” which there are not many people studying that aspect of it, Nielsen said.

Nielsen has successfully shown the therapy blocks 36 different kinds of venom from interacting with animal and human plasma in test tubes. He also had successful results in live animal tests for at least an hour.

Nielsen hasn’t tested to see if the effects of the treatment could last longer.

The next step in his research is to test a more EpiPen-like application method, meaning direct injection into the bitten area, on animals before any human tests are allowed.

Antivenom is the standard treatment for snakebites, Nielsen said. “This is not to replace antivenom,” he said.

But if this therapy can keep the poisonous parts of the venom inactive, it could lessen the damage to a victim’s body, Nielsen said.

It’s a possibility that still has to be tested, he said. But Nielsen sees his treatment as a bridge to get victims antivenom therapy with as little harm as possible.
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Photo credit: AP / Chris Gardner

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