UA Researcher Makes Major Advance in Snakebite Treatment

Home UA Researcher Makes Major Advance in Snakebite Treatment

October 26, 2017

A University of Arizona College of Medicine researcher is developing an innovative therapy for snakebites. It has been shown to delay or prevent the life-threatening effects of the bites of multiple venomous snake species found in North and South America and Africa, including the Western Diamondback rattlesnake and the Cobra. For now, the treatment will help horses, dogs, and cats if given soon enough after a bite from one of three dozen venomous snakes.

Dr. Vance G. Nielsen, professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Anesthesiology at the UA College of Medicine in Tucson recently proved that his carbon monoxide and iron-based therapy could be used on animals to delay the dangerous effects of blood clotting after a snakebite. If given soon after a bite, the new therapy provides time for victims to get to a hospital for antivenin drugs.

Nielsen said the therapy still must undergo human testing. He's working with Tech Launch Arizona, the UA office that commercializes inventions stemming from University research, to find commercial funding for continued development.

Nielsen’s goal is to make the combination of carbon monoxide and iron-based therapy available through an auto-injector like an EpiPen® that could be stocked in ambulances for use by first responders or carried in campers' and hikers' first aid kits.

According to the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, snakebites peak in August and September at a rate of one per day, while spring and fall typically have half as many. In a typical year, the thirteen varieties of rattlesnakes in Arizona deliver 160 bites. Nationwide that number is closer to 8,000 bites per year.

Snake venom destroys a protein that allows blood to clot, raising the risk of internal bleeding. Paradoxically, the venom can cause abnormally fast clotting, which can block blood vessels, leading to heart attack, stroke, or major organ damage. The therapy inhibits both reactions.

It’s a race against time to reach lifesaving healthcare after exposure to snake venom, so being able to inhibit the reaction for an hour can give patients of all species precious time before dangerous reactions occur. 

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