October 10, 2017

UA Researcher Develops Snake Bite Treatment

Novel combination of carbon monoxide and iron delays venom's damaging effects.


A University of Arizona College of Medicine researcher has developed a therapy to delay or prevent the life-threatening effects of being bitten by a rattlesnake or other venomous snakes.

Anesthesiologist Vance Nielsen tested a combination of carbon monoxide and iron in animals. The treatment blocked the venom’s effects for up to an hour. Dr. Nielsen's research was published in the journals Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology and the Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis.

Snake venom destroys a protein that enables blood to clot. Venom also can cause abnormally fast clotting, leading to heart attack, stroke and organ damage. It's those conditions that can lead to a person's death from a bite.

The new therapy can do more than provide time for victims to get to a hospital for antivenom drugs.

“It may also play a role in supportive therapy, especially with snakes, and there are many that don’t have antivenoms available,” he said.

The therapy can be used to treat the bites of multiple snake species found in North and South America and Africa, not just the Western Diamondback rattlesnake.   Nielsen said the therapy still must undergo human testing. He's working with Tech Launch Arizona to find commercial funding for continued development.

The therapy could be stocked in ambulances for use by first responders or carried in campers' and hikers' first aid kits. The treatment will help horses, dogs and cats bitten by a snake.

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