In pursuit of a universal antivenom | Natural History Museum
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In pursuit of a universal antivenom | Natural History Museum


We milk our snakes to get the venom and we
send these to companies who make antivenom. And these products save thousands of lives
all across the world at the moment. Even if someone does get to hospital in time they often aren’t going to know
which snake has bitten them and that means we have to give them
antivenoms that work against a certain number of species
found in that part of the world. We might need 10 vials, even 20 or 30 vials
of antivenom to save someone’s life. So, you’re talking about thousands of pounds
on people who are earning a dollar, two dollars a day a day. The challenge we face is that snake venoms
are really complex. There can be 50 to 200 different toxins
in the venom of any one snake. For example, cobras and puff adders, they
live in the same area, but they have completely different venom. What we’re trying to do is to actually identify
what all of the different toxins are in these venoms. Which ones are shared between different
venomous snakes and which ones are different? Once we’ve figured that out, then we can
start to really develop targeted therapies – new types of antivenom that are capable
of neutralising these really key toxins. Ideally in 10 years’ time we hope to have
antivenoms that are far more specific than those that exist today.

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