Biologists have come close to creating a universal antidote for snake bites

Biologists have come close to creating a universal antidote for snake bites

If you have been bitten by a poisonous snake, you will need medicine – antidote. Unfortunately, antivenoms are species-specific, meaning you need to administer the correct antivenom for the specific snake that bit you. Most often, people do not know what kind of snake bit them. And for some species of snakes there is no antidote.

New research takes a step forward in creating an antivenom that neutralizes the venom of any venomous snake: a so-called “universal antivenom.”

In a paper published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, scientists describe the discovery and development of a laboratory antibody capable of neutralizing a neurotoxin (a toxin that affects the nervous system) found in the venom of many species of snakes around the world.

Venomous snakes kill 138,000 people every year, and many survivors suffer life-changing injuries and mental health problems. Most of the victims are children and farmers.

The active ingredients of the antidote are antibodies against toxins. They are produced by injecting horses with a small amount of snake venom and collecting antibodies. This method of making antidotes has remained unchanged for more than a century – and it has significant drawbacks.

In addition to being species-specific, antivenoms aren’t very effective, so you’ll need a lot of antivenom to neutralize the venom you receive from a bite.

Antibodies created in the laboratory using genetically modified cells are routinely used in humans to treat cancer and immune disorders. The long-held hope is that the technology used to produce these antibodies could be used to make antidotes and eventually replace traditional antidotes, thereby solving many problems.

Antibodies in laboratory antivenoms can be “humanized,” a process that tricks your immune system into thinking that someone else’s antibodies are your own. This may reduce the incidence of serious side effects commonly seen with equine-derived antivenoms.

One of the most important families of toxins in snake venoms is the neurotoxins. These toxins prevent the passage of nerve signals from the brain to the muscles, paralyzing them. Including, the muscles that inflate and deflate the lungs are paralyzed, so snake victims and people quickly stop breathing and die. These neurotoxins are found in the venoms of some of the deadliest snakes in the world, including the African black mamba, the Asian one-horned cobra, and the king cobra, as well as the deadly kraits of the Indian subcontinent.

In the study, scientists describe the discovery and development of a laboratory humanized antibody capable of neutralizing key neurotoxins in the venom of various snakes from different regions.

The lab-created antibody is called 95Mat5 and was discovered after examining 50 billion unique antibodies to find those that can not only recognize the neurotoxin in the venoms of many species, but also neutralize its lethal effects.

When administered to mice given a lethal dose of venom, 95Mat5 was able to prevent paralysis and death in all venoms tested.

Some snake venoms contain hemotoxins, which cause bleeding, and some contain cytotoxins, which destroy skin and bones. In order to create a universal anti-venom that can treat any bite from any snake, it is necessary to find additional antibodies that can broadly and powerfully neutralize other types of toxins in the same way that 95Mat5 does.

Perhaps once these antibodies are discovered, they can be mixed with 95Mat5 to produce an antivenom capable of neutralizing the venom of any snake, regardless of what types of toxins it possesses.

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