Scientists are working towards creating a universal anti-venom for all the deadly snakes in sub-Saharan Africa.
Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) are using a new technique called ‘antivenomics’ to increase the potency of venom extraction, which has traditionally had a low success rate due to the weakness of the venom taken.
A breakthrough could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Snake bites kill 32,000 people, and permanently disables 96,000 more, every year in sub-Saharan Africa.
The head of LSTM’s Alistair Reid Venom Unit, Dr Robert Harrison said: “There are over 20 species of deadly snakes in Sub-Saharan Africa and doctors often rely on the victim’s description of the animal to help them decide which treatment to administer”.
Faced with limited information, doctors frequently decide to give snake-bite patients broad-spectrum, or poly-specific, antivenom to cover all the possible snake species – but this is an expensive option often not available to the poorer subsistence farmers who make the bulk of victims.
This method also increases the chances of serious side effects.
Anti-venom medicines remain limited thanks to the method by which they are extracted – which LSTM hopes to change.
10 Deadliest Animals In The World
10 Deadliest Animals In The World
1/10 10: Poison Dart Frog
They might look cute, but the backs of the Amazonian poison dart frog ooze a slimy neurotoxin to keep predators away. Each frog produces enough of the toxin to kill 10 humans.
2/10 9: Polar Bear
The strength of a polar bear is enough to decapitate a human being with a single swipe of the paw.
3/10 8: African Elephant
The brute force of an elephant is unrivalled by any land mammal. Weighing in around 16,000lb on average, they are responsible for around 500 human deaths each year.
4/10 7: Cape Buffalo
Cape Buffalos charge head-on with their razor-sharp horns when confronted with a predator - all 1,500lb of them. And the problem is, they tend to do so as a herd.
5/10 6: Crocodile
The stealth and combined strength of a crocodile allows it to lie in the water undetected, before it strikes, drags its pray underwater, barrel rolls and dismembers it.
6/10 5: African Lion
These big cats are ruthlessly agile, armed with razor-sharp teeth and talons and near-perfect hunters.
7/10 4: Great White Shark
These kings of the sea have 3,000 teeth with which to tear their pray to shreds. On average, are 15ft long and 5,000lb, and can detect a drop of blood in 25 gallons of water.
8/10 3: Australian Box Jellyfish
Each tentacle has 5,000 stinging cells and enough toxin to kill 60 humans. Each jellyfish has 60 tentacles each at 15 ft long. That's a lot of killing power for an animal the size of a salad bowl.
9/10 2: Asian Cobra
It might not be the most poisonous snake, but thanks to its unique spit and strike attack technique, the Asian Cobra is responsible for more human deaths than any other snake on the planet.
10/10 1: Mosquito
Tiny but deadly, mosquitoes carry and transfer malaria causing parasites to humans. As a result, they cause on average 2million human deaths a year, making the insect one of the world's deadliest creatures. Aside from human beings, of course.
Currently, venom is extracted from several species before being injected – in low doses – into livestock. The animals produce antibodies which are purified from the blood to create anti-venom.
As only small amounts of venom, from different snakes, can be used the end result is very weak. LSTM, in partnership with Instituto Clodomiro Picado, San Jose, Costa Rica and the Institute de Biomdedicina de Valencia, Spain, hopes to change this.Reuse content