In Brief
  • A team of scientists engineered a nanoparticle to help remove the toxins found in a wide variety of snake bites.
  • This could impact the estimated 4.5 million people who are bitten by snakes each year, and the 100,000 who die from the venom.

Versatility vs Venom

Each year, more than 100,000 people worldwide die from venomous snakebites. Even more, an estimated 4.5 million are bitten by these creatures, with nearly 3 million of them suffering serious injury, such as amputation. Since a variety of toxins are contained in the venom of any given species of venomous snake, it is imperative that the correct antivenom be administered in time to a bite victim. This is extremely difficult in many parts of the world for various reasons including the remote location of most of the incidents, lack of required refrigeration, and the staggering cost of producing conventional antivenom.

Prior to this work, the team of chemists from the University of California, Irvine had designed nanoparticles to bind with a toxin in bee venom to remove it from the blood of sting victims. They used that breakthrough as a jumping off point to tackle snake venom. Instead of binding to a single toxin, the researchers wanted to engineer a nanoparticle that could potentially help remove the multiple toxins found in a single snake bite, or even to battle venom from multiple species.

Phtot credit: BIOSPHOTO/Alamy Stock Photo
Photo credit: BIOSPHOTO/Alamy Stock Photo

Picking Off Proteins

The research targets a specific group of toxins called PLA2 proteins. In an attempt to cast the widest net possible for these proteins, the researchers created a variety of particles with different chemical functions. These particles were then arranged in different configurations and incubated with various PLA2 proteins. The nanoparticles that bound to the PLA2 proteins the best were used as blueprints for subsequent rounds of incubation. Out of this sequence, the researchers were able to develop nanoparticles that could be used against a wide variety of the harmful proteins. And while other proteins also bound to the particles, the toxins often pushed those out of the way and bound more strongly. The research can be found in full in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Further testing on how well the nanoparticles performed is still needed. The researchers do have plans to begin animal testing as early as next month. Should this research prove viable, it could be a game-changer in many areas at the most risk for snakebites. Not only is the synthesis of this method cheaper than traditional antivenom, but it also does away with the need for refrigeration, making it a saving grace for the most at-risk areas of the world.