Deadly snake venom could stop uncontrolled bleeding

Researchers have found a way to turn venom into a powerful healing gel.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Snakes! The mere mention of the animals sends shivers down the spine. But these venomous animals could prove very useful for humans.

The biomaterials research team from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), led by Postdoctoral Research Fellow Amanda Kijas, has discovered a protein in the venom of two snakes  (Australia’s eastern brown and scaled viper) that could serve as a useful accelerant in the human body’s natural blood-clotting process, according to a statement from the institution published on Monday.

A gel that seals wounds

The discovery has led to a gel that can stop bleeding by solidifying at body temperature to seal wounds.

“As many as 40 percent of trauma-related deaths are the result of uncontrolled bleeding, and this figure is much higher when it comes to military personnel with serious bleeding in a combat zone,” Kijas said.

“Nature has created the most elegant and sophisticated mechanisms, and we can repurpose them to save people from dying due to uncontrolled bleeding. The research shows there is five times less blood loss, and clots form three times more quickly when the venom gel is applied, compared to the body’s natural process."

“This even includes people with hemophilia and those using blood thinners,” the researcher said.

Kijas added that today's first aid treatment using gauze products often is not effective at stopping bleeding in the case of an emergency.

“When a traumatic injury occurs, the complexity of the healing process overloads the body’s capacity to control the bleeding,” Kijas explained."

The new gel may be ideally suited for treating large wounds.

“We hope this gel will accelerate the wound-healing processes needed for clotting and reducing blood flow, ultimately boosting the body’s capacity to heal large wounds,” he said.

Snake bites and antivenoms 

Of course, humans have developed another use for snake venom: protecting people who've been bitten by snakes.

Unfortunately, antivenoms are produced in very small quantities.  They are also very expensive which means most people don't have access to them. Finally, there's the fact that snake venom has diversified over the years making it very hard to produce just one antivenom to target all kinds of snakes.

One substance that protected against the bite of 10 different snakes saw its production thwarted in 2014 because it simply wasn't profitable enough to continue development. This leaves us severely unprotected against snake bites.

The question then becomes: will we be able to produce a new effective antivenom in time to avoid the horrible consequences of snake bites? The researchers are taking great steps toward making the substance useful to human lives but they cannot stop accidents from happening.