First aid

23 March 2015

Opossums may help humans neutralise snake venom

Opossums suffer no ill effects from snake bite venom, and research has found that a certain protein the creatures possess seems to neutralise the venom.

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Wouldn't it be great if humans were immune to snakes' venom? Well, opossums are, and scientists are studying the mammals with an eye to creating a new and better venom antidote.

Protein neutralises venom

Such an antidote could save thousands of lives worldwide without the side effects caused by current treatments, explained a team led by Claire Komives of San Jose State University.

Opossums suffer no ill effects from snake bite venom, and prior research has found that a certain protein the creatures possess seems to neutralise the venom.

In its study, Komives' group had the protein chemically synthesized. The researchers found that it protected mice from the venom of U.S. Western Diamondback rattlesnakes, as well as the deadly Russell's viper from Pakistan. Of course, more research is needed to determine if the anti-venom will work in humans, as well.

Read: Spider toxin the future of anti-venom vaccines

The study was to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver.

Inexpensive to produce in large amounts

"It appears that the venom protein may bind to the [protein], rendering it no longer toxic," Komives said in a meeting news release.

She and her team found they could program the E. coli bacteria to manufacture the protein, making it inexpensive to produce large amounts. The protein should also be easy to purify from E. coli, the researchers said.

An inexpensive anti-venom could make a huge difference in areas such as Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and South America, where thousands of people are bitten by poisonous snakes each year.

Worldwide, there are about 421,000 poisonous snake bites and 20,000 deaths from those bites each year, according to the International Society on Toxicology.

Findings presented at scientific meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Read more:

Snake bites in children

Snake venom to treat cancer

Snake bites: what to do

Image: Large Virginia opossum from Shutterstock

 

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