When people generally think about snake venom, they envision a deadly toxin that they want to keep out of their bodies at all costs. Researchers at Rice University, however, have recently developed a new delivery mechanism to put snake venom into the human body. Why would anyone want to put snake venom into their body? It turns out that this particular venom produced specifically by South American pitvipers called Batroxibin is a blood coagulant or clotter. In other words, scientists have been able to take this potentially deadly venom and use it to promote blood clotting to save lives.
This property of venom as a coagulant was discovered in 1936. What researchers at Rice did was develop an innovative method for injecting the venom using a synthetic gel. By combining this venom compound with a unique nanofiber gel that they developed, the researchers were able to create a coagulant gel capable of stopping bleeding in under 6 seconds. The medical applications for this gel, which still needs to get FDA approval, are significant. Most importantly, this gel can be used during surgery to quickly stop bleeding. Other coagulants are not effective in all types of surgery because some patients take other medications that counteract clotting. One example of this type of counteracting drug is Heparin. The chemical compound of the venom, however, is not affected by drugs like Heparin, making it an effective solution for bleeding issues during surgery. Also, because the delivery mechanism for the Batroxibin is a localized gel, the drug delivery is very targeted. This reduces the chance of any potential side effects that may arise from a full body delivery. This discovery will be a very useful tool for surgeons in the future as it is a very functional, targeted, widely effective coagulant – a certain improvement over current solutions.
Teja Ravivarapu is a freshman from Sid Richardson College at Rice University.
1. Williams, Mike. Snake Venom Helps Hydrogels Stop Bleeding. http://news.rice.edu/2015/10/26/snake-venom-helps-hydrogels-stop-the-bleeding/ (accessed 11/01/15), part of news.rice.edu
2. Kumar, V.; Wickremasinghe, N.; Shi, S.; Hartgerink, J. Nanofibrous Snake Venom Hemostat. ACS 2015. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acsbiomaterials.5b00356