Universal antidote for snakebite a step closer

Scientists working on a universal antidote for snakebite have moved one step closer to their goal as a result of promising research carried out in the USA and in Dublin.

Led by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) the scientists examined the use of a nasally administered common hospital drug, neostigmine, on mice injected with high doses of Indian cobra venom.

Mice injected with fatal doses of venom outlived those that didn’t receive the treatment and in many cases survived after being treated with the antiparalytic agent. The results of the research were published in the Journal of Tropical Medicine.

The scientific team was led by Dr Matthew Lewin, Director of the Centre for Exploration and Travel Health at the Academy and Dr Stephen P Samuel, a visiting Research Fellow in the School of Medicine, TCD.

Dr Samuel said their approach towards developing a point-of-care treatment would give victims much needed time to reach hospital, while reducing cost of treatment.

"This would make a profound difference in the health of millions," he said.

Almost five million people are bitten by snakes each year with between 94,000 to 125,000 deaths resulting. A study published in the BMJ noted the existence of large numbers of dangerous pet snakes in the UK and Ireland, 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.

Dr Samuel said their research was "the first promising step towards development of a universal antidote for snake bites".