Anti-venoms are chemicals which blunt or reverse the effects of the toxins injected by a snake and are considered as standard medicines. But a recent study published in Toxicology Letters finds that these medicines actually do not work against a lot of snake populations.
Anti-venoms were begun to be produced in the 19th century by the procedure which involved the extraction of venom from snakes and then injected into animals such as horses which could survive due to their relatively bigger sizes. The immune system of the animal consequently produces antibodies for the neutralization of the venom, which are extracted and stored for eventual use in human beings. During the current times, the practice of the production of a single venom has been replaced by that of injecting multiple toxins in the hope of creating an anti-venom which is to be effective against all venoms. This practice is encouraged by the fact that, in many cases of snake bites it is not known about the species of snake which was involved.
The study finds that the most efficient anti-venom, EchiTab-Plus-ICP, worked well against toxins produced by the vipers of Ghana, Nigeria, and other regions. But it did not work against many other saw-scaled vipers. The same has been found to be true for many other anti-venoms as well. However, there is nothing to be worried about, as the study does a constructively critical analysis of anti-venoms and suggests that anti-venoms need to be produced keeping in mind the variations of toxins from place-to-place. Toxins vary from one geographical region to another. Therefore, it suggests that anti-venoms need to be made more effective.
Anti-venoms of the future and the problems associated with conventional anti-venoms
According to the WHO, there occur an estimated of 5 million snake bites annually, which end up killing more than 100,000 of the victims and permanently damaging many more. The anti-venoms which are employed currently are not difficult to produce but are however expensive. They have become increasingly troublesome to administer and distribute, which has led to their inefficiency in saving lives.
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As described above, anti-venoms are made by the injection of a non-lethal dose of toxins into an animal and then wait for it to produce antibodies. The problems involved in this technique is that it is primarily expensive which makes it inaccessible in rural areas globally wherein the vast majority of snake bites take place. Further, the anti-venom needs to be kept in a refrigerated state which makes its transportation and storage a problem. The last but not the least problem associated with conventional anti-venoms is that they are only effective against only a single species of snake, which as the first half of the article mentions also varies from place-to-place.
Anti-venom Market Latest Developments
The latest developments in the field of anti-venoms involve the incorporation of Nano-technology, which involve the designing of anti-venoms around a specially constructed polymer gel. This has been termed as “Nano-dote”. Upon injection, the Nano-particles involved in the material absorb the venom by binding to distinct protein toxins which are commonly exhibited in many species of deadly snakes. Further, these particles sequester and also neutralize the toxins, all the while keeping the toxins from attacking the RBCs which causes severe and fatal hemorrhaging.
The ingredients involved in Nano-dote are quite easy to obtain and it is also cheaper to be produced than the current anti-venoms and antidotes. Further, there is no requirement for Nano-dotes to be kept in a refrigerated state and they can be transported easily and at cheap costs to the remotest areas of the world. The researchers involved in the production of Nano-dotes are currently working on their preparation for clinical trials. In the near future, it is also possible to modify these Nano-dotes to cater as anti-venoms not only for snakes, but also for bees, spiders, and scorpions.