New universal antivenom could soon be available: study

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A puff adder is milked for venom in Kenya. —Reuters
A puff adder is milked for venom in Kenya. —Reuters

A groundbreaking study led by researchers has unveiled a significant stride towards creating a "universal antivenom" that could counteract the venom effects of any venomous snake, The Conversation reported.

The research, published in Science Translational Medicine, highlights the discovery of a laboratory-made antibody, named 95Mat5, created to counteract neurotoxins found in the venom of diverse snake species worldwide.

Venomous snakes claim up to 138,000 lives annually, with numerous survivors, particularly children and farmers, facing life-altering injuries and mental trauma.

The current antivenom production method, using horses injected with snake venom, presents challenges, including species specificity, low potency, and the risk of severe side effects due to foreign antibodies from horses.

The newly developed antibody, 95Mat5, demonstrated success in preventing paralysis and death when tested against lethal doses of venom in mice. 

While promising, the researchers acknowledge the need for additional antibodies to address different toxin types present in snake venoms, such as haemotoxins and cytotoxins.

Creating a truly universal antivenom will require identifying additional antibodies that can broadly neutralise various toxin types, ultimately forming a comprehensive solution for snakebite victims. 

However, challenges remain, including the necessity for extensive human trials to ensure effectiveness and safety, as well as overcoming storage and distribution obstacles in regions with unreliable electricity.

Despite the potential hurdles, the research marks a hopeful step towards developing a more accessible and efficient antivenom for snakebite victims, with the ultimate goal of saving lives and mitigating the impact of snake envenomation worldwide.