UA experts working on treatment for quicker relief from snake bites

Published: Apr. 13, 2016 at 10:24 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:12 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Every year, as many as 8,000 people are bitten by a venomous snake in the U.S.

But now, researchers at the University of Arizona are developing a new treatment to slow the spread of venom in the body to help people buy time until medical help arrives.

"It's an absolutely life-threatening condition. It can be sometimes, best case scenario, you're losing a limb," said Capt. Brian Keeley of the Northwest Fire District.

Once a person is bit by a rattlesnake, the venom spreads rapidly through the body.

The poison destroys tissue, causing limbs to swell.

Keeley said many remedies thought to stop the spread simply don't work.

"The tourniquet is a no go. The ice is a no go and sucking out the venom is a no go," Keeley said.

Dr. Vance Nielsen and Dr. Leslie Boyer of the University of Arizona's College of Medicine have partnered to come up with a way to delay the dangerous results of a rattlesnake bite - which is the destruction of fibrinogen, an essential protein that enables blood to clot.

Loss of it increases the risk of bleeding within the body.

"It'll prevent the venom that's already escaped from the bite from damaging your blood stream's protein further," Nielsen said.

Nielsen envisions the medicine being in the form of a patch that the victim could put on the bite, or something similar to an EpiPen, which could be injected into the muscle.

After the bite is treated, the victim would still need to rush to a hospital where doctors would administer anti-venom, which is the cure.

Nielsen said the impact of this new medicine could reach around the world.

"In the third world, in India, you're a three-day walk from the hospital, but even here if you're an hour or two from the hospital, you're out hiking and there's no accessibility, it'll make a difference," Nielsen said.

Nielsen said being on the forefront of this new medicine is both exciting and rewarding.

"If we can come up with something that actually makes a difference for clinical care, that's very gratifying," he said.

This treatment is still in the very early stages of development.

Next, doctors plan to test it on animals, like rabbits, because the way their blood clots very similarly to that of humans.

Eventually, Nielsen and Boyer would like to have this available over the counter in all pharmacies.

Tucson News Now Intern Clarisse Markarian contributed to this report.

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