A new ‘nanodote’ for all kinds of snakebite

Scientists have developed a ‘nanodote’—a low-cost molecular gel — to counter snakebite in a manner far more effective than existing anti-venoms, an advance that may save thousands of lives in rural parts of India.

Worldwide,an estimated 4.5 million people are bitten annually.

Around 2.7 million suffer crippling injuries and more than 1,00,000 die, most of them farmworkers and children in poor, rural parts of India and sub-Saharan Africa that have little healthcare.

“Current anti-venom is very specific to certain snake types. Ours seems to show broad-spectrum ability to stop cell destruction across species on many continents, and that is quite a big deal,” said Jeffrey O’Brien of University of California, Irvine, U.S. Researchers synthesised a polymer nanogel material that binds to several key protein toxins, keeping them from bursting cell membranes and causing widespread destruction.

The human serum in the test tubes stayed clear, rather than turning scarlet from the venom’s typical deadly rupture of red blood cells.

“The venom, a ‘complex toxic cocktail’ evolved over millennia to stay ahead of prey’s own adaptive strategies, is absorbed onto the surface of nanoparticles in the new material and is permanently sequestered there, diverted from doing harm,” said Ken Shea from the university. Thanks to the use of readily available, non-poisonous components, the “nanodote” has a long shelf life and costs less, researchers added.

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