The word poison does not have precisely positive connotations for us. However, scientists are discovering that certain animal poisons can help treat conditions such as cancer (bee venom) or diabetes (platypus venom) . Now, a team of researchers has developed a kind of fast-acting glue capable of stopping major bleeding in less than a minute using the venom of the spearhead viper.
The spearhead viper ( Bothrops atrox ) is one of the most venomous snakes in South America. It kills its victims (small mammals, birds and reptiles) with a poison that causes such a level of clotting in the blood that the body is unable to cope by creating clots and ends up bleeding excessively and, of course, dying. This is what is known as consumption coagulopathy.
Knowing this, the scientists extracted the molecule reptilase (or batroxobin) responsible for blood clotting. This enzyme is already used in diagnostic laboratory tests to measure levels of fibrinogen, a molecule produced in the liver that our body converts for use in blood clots.
Based on previous research, the team added the reptilase to methacrylated gelatin to make it a fast-acting tissue adhesive . Gelatin had already shown promise for its ability to control and fixate by light, but it was not able to adhere well in the presence of blood. The addition of reptilase fixed it quickly.
“During trauma, injury or emergency bleeding, this ‘super glue’ can be applied simply by squeezing the tube and shining a visible light, such as a laser pointer, on it for a few seconds. Even a smartphone flashlight can do the trick. “ explains Kibret Mequanint, a Western University bioengineer and one of the authors of the study that has been published in Science Advances .
By rapidly converting fibrinogen to clot-forming fibrin, reptilase could seal wounds in as little as 45 seconds – half the time of today’s best option in this field, fibrin glue.
The researchers tested the glue on major bleeding wounds, such as a deep cut in the skin and a tear in the aorta, in rats. It did not require any additional sutures and was not removed with the blood.
“We anticipate that this tissue ‘super glue’ will be used to save lives on the battlefield or in other accidental injuries, such as traffic accidents,” says Mequanint. “The applicator also fits easily into first aid kits.”
The treatment, however, has yet to undergo clinical trials before reaching that point.
Recently, other research has been made public related to the potential that the venom can have to save lives, more specifically that of spider to help people who have suffered a heart attack.
Exploring animal venoms “allows us to tap into the vast libraries of natural peptides selected by evolution over millions of years to discover therapeutic clues,” explained University of Vienna chemist Markus Muttenthaler, whose work has investigated the use of spider and scorpion venom for chronic pain relief.