A researcher from the University of Arizona wants to develop a therapy that can momentarily halt the effects of a rattlesnake bite.
Dr. Vance G. Nielsen plans to administer the experimental therapy like an EpiPen, which means it would be injected into a victim of a snakebite out in the field to buy them more time to get to the nearest hospital for proper treatment.
What Snake Venom Does To The Body
Generally, venom is harmful to the nervous system and can interrupt the normal functions of blood in the body. That's according to Nielsen, who is a professor and vice chair for research at the Department of Anesthesiology and the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona.
Venom from snakes might cause blood clotting, which can lead to a heart attack, a stroke, or organ malfunction. Snake venom is also hemotoxic — destructive to the ability of blood to clot — which can lead to excessive bleeding. Nielsen's therapy inhibits both of these actions, according to the University of Arizona News.
Nielsen's Snakebite Therapy: How It Would Work
Nielsen has confirmed that if given soon enough to the snake bite victim, the therapy can directly inhibit a snake venom's ability to block blood clotting in laboratory animals for as much as an hour. His findings were published recently in the journals Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology and the Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis.
Nielsen hasn't tested if his therapy could block the effects of a snake's venom for longer than an hour. But that's the key to the success of this experiment. Perhaps the most important thing to consider after a rattlesnake bite is time. After a snake attacks, its venom works to destroy the body's fibrinogen quickly, without which, blood loses its ability to clot, increasing the risk of internal bleeding.
Nielsen has discovered that his therapy, which involves injecting carbon monoxide to block the venom's effects, works on over three dozen snake species around the world.
The exciting thing about the research, said Nielsen, is that they've proven carbon monoxide can work against venom.
"[C]arbon monoxide has the ability to directly inhibit essentially all hemotoxic venom enzymes in the test tube," he said, adding that "it blocks the effects of the Western Diamondback rattlesnake's venom in animals."
The next step of the experiment is to test the application method on animals before testing it on humans. His therapy, however, will not replace antivenom, which is the accepted standard cure for snakebites, said Nielsen.