What do we know about snakebites? The general knowledge is that if bitten, restricts the circulation to the area, rushing off to the hospital and hope that you remember what the snake looked like. Venomous snakebites require an antivenom designed for a particular snake venom. But what happens when the antivenom is expensive, does not work 100% of the time and has no suitable alternative? In addition to this, the current antivenom has to be administered at a medical facility as there is up to a 75% chance of an allergic reaction occurring when injected.With up to 200 thousand deaths and 400 thousand cases of amputations due to snake bites occurring each year, most of them being children or the poor who are unable to afford the current treatment, a better and more effective cure is needed. Which is what the good folks at ATIS Research Ltd are trying to accomplish.
Their project: ‘ATIS Global Snakebite Appeal’ which was created with the slogan ‘To take the BITE out of snakeBITE’, attempts to create a universal antivenom that could potentially save a lot of lives. The project headed by Dr. Douglas Shipton and Fiona Shipton (who is also a doctoral research student here at UNMC) focuses on creating an affordable and easy to use universal antivenom. Their goal is to have a product that is suitable as a first-aid treatment on site, can be used without specialised training and by anyone, regardless of wealth.
Although they are currently in the research phase of the product, their research has led them to believe that a better form of treatment is indeed possible. The product would be made using natural compounds from plants, making the production process cheaper and ethical. As it does not use foreign proteins, it would ensure that the treatment has minimal side effects as an immune response would not be triggered. Though the current form of treatment is only applied when the presence of venom is confirmed, as severe side effects could occur without envenomation, the product by ATIS Research would be able to be applied regardless of envenomation, leading to a higher chance of lives and limbs being saved.
Current treatment, IgG antivenom, works by injecting animal derived anti-bodies that bind to specific venom peptides, but their activity is limited and they may only work against certain snakebites. The proposed product would work by neutralising the venom peptides via natural, plant-derived compounds, which would work for multiple types of venom.
The finished product would be delivered through the skin, and combat the venom. In addition to this, the product would also have anti-bacterial properties which would fight off any bacteria transferred from the snake’s mouth during the bite. This is much easier on the patient as there is no need for an injection for the venom and the risk of bacterial infection is reduced at the same time. The product could potentially also be used to treat envenomation by other animals such as jellyfish, scorpions, spiders, etc.
Though the treatment is still in its early stages and there are more hurdles to pass, ATIS Research are confident that their anticipated product will be able to save lives and make the world a better place.
If you wish to read up more on their research and follow their progress, check out their website: atisresearch.com
By Ayoub Juman