An antidote for snakebite is a step closer thanks to researches from Trinity College Dublin and California Academy of Sciences.
The research may lead the way to providing a fast, accessible and easy way to administer treatment and increase survival rates in victims of venomous snakebites.
Almost 5 million people are bitten by snakes each year.
Between 94,000 and 125,000 die as a result.
The international treatment for neurotoxic snakebites is antivenom or neostigmine administered in a hospital via injection.
However, the vast majority of snakebites occur in impoverished, rural populations with limited access to medical treatment.
In India alone snakes kill approximately a third as many people as AIDS and severely injure many more.
It’s estimated that more than 75 percent of snakebite victims die before they ever reach the hospital, mostly because there is no easy way to treat them in the field.
For those who do manage to receive successful treatment, studies have shown that the costs of hospital treatment can cause economic ruin for the individual and their family with many patients reporting taking loans, removing their children from school and incurring up to 12 years income worth of debt.
The researchers examined the use of a nasally administered common hospital drug, neostigmine, on mice injected with high doses of Indian cobra venom.
Mice injected with otherwise fatal doses of venom outlived those that didn’t receive the treatment and in many cases survived after being treated with it.
The scientific team was led by Dr Matthew Lewin, Director of the Center for Exploration and Travel Health at the Academy and Dr Stephen P. Samuel, a visiting research fellow in the Nanomedicine and Molecular Imaging Group in the School of Medicine, Trinity
The results of the research were recently published in the Journal of Tropical Medicine.
Speaking about the significance of these findings, Dr Samuel said:
“Our approach towards developing a point-of-care treatment will give victims much needed time to reach the hospital while also reducing cost of treatment.
This would make a profound difference in the health of millions. In the future, patients from impoverished areas should not have to take loans, sell their valuables or deny education to their children for want of better treatment.
“We urge global health leaders to accelerate the development of affordable, innovative treatments for snakebite.”
A recent study also noted the existence of large numbers of dangerous snakes in the UK and Ireland which are kept as pets and which occasionally result in people getting bitten.
Because of the wide variety of exotic pets kept, quickly identifying the animal and the correct antivenom can be a challenge.
In 2011, Dr Lewin started exploring the idea of a quick and easy to administer treatment which could shorten time to treatment and save lives.
Together with Dr Samuel and their colleagues, they began investigating a neostigmine nasal spray which had been used decades ago for an uncommon neuromuscular disease.
They first tested its potential efficacy against the paralysing effects of neurotoxic snakebites through an experiment with a healthy human volunteer who was paralysed, while awake, using a toxin that mimics the effects of the venom of cobras and other snakes that disable their victims by paralysis.
The experimental paralysis progressed from eye muscle weakness to respiratory distress in the same order typically seen in snakebite victims.
The team then administered the nasal spray and within 20 minutes the patient had recovered.
Dr Samuel, along with Dr C. Soundara Raj, and colleagues at TCR Multispeciality Hospital in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, India, also tested the nasal spray treatment on a snakebite victim in a hospital in India.
After receiving 30 vials of antivenom, the standard treatment for venomous snakebites, the female patient remained weak and suffered from facial paralysis.
Within 30 minutes of treatment with the antipyretic nasal spray, the patient’s facial paralysis was reversed.
Two weeks after being treated, the patient reported having returned to her daily activities.
Dr Lewin Director of the Center for Exploration and Travel Health at the Academy said:
“Ninety-eight percent of snakebite victims live in poverty, which is perhaps why funding and innovation are lacking.
The bottom line is that no one should die from a snake bite in the twenty-first century, and we’re optimistic about this promising step.