According to the World Health Organization, snakes bite an estimated 5 million people each year, killing more than 100,000 of those victims and permanently injuring hundreds of thousands more. Current antivenoms might not be saving lives as efficiently as they could be, given that they’re difficult and expensive to produce, distribute and administer. Now, researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have developed a synthetic alternative with a long shelf-life that can neutralize the venom from several species of snakes.
Although existing antivenom treatments are effective at preventing death or long-term disability like amputation, they aren’t easy to make, store or ship. One of the most common ways is to inject a horse or sheep with a non-lethal dose of a venom, wait for the animal to develop antibodies against the toxins, and then harvest and process those antibodies into an antivenom.
That technique is problematic for several reasons. For one, it’s expensive, which means that it isn’t accessible in the poorer rural areas of the world where the majority of snake bites occur. It also needs to be refrigerated, making storage and shipping tricky, and most antivenoms are only effective against bites from a single species of snake. The UCI team says their synthetic solution could solve all of these issues.