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Toxic venom of Australia’s most dangerous snakes possible lifesaver

June 22, 2022 6:30PM Kids News

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The Australian eastern brown snake is one of two snakes with venom that might be produced as a gel that clots the blood and reduces deaths caused by uncontrollable blood loss after injury. Picture: Ken Griffiths/supplied media_cameraThe Australian eastern brown snake is one of two snakes with venom that might be produced as a gel that clots the blood and reduces deaths caused by uncontrollable blood loss after injury. Picture: Ken Griffiths/supplied

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Some of the world’s deadliest snakes could soon be saving lives, with research from the University of Queensland showing venom* could be used to stop uncontrolled bleeding.

The research team has found protein in the venom of two snakes – Australia’s eastern brown and scaled viper ­– could be used to speed up the body’s natural blood-clotting process.

The team is working on a gel that could be sold in pharmacies, added to first aid kits and used by paramedics* or military personnel in combat zones to stop bleeding while a patient is taken to hospital.

The venom gel remains a liquid when stored in a cool place but solidifies at body temperature to seal the wound.

media_cameraClose up of an eastern brown snake. Picture: supplied/Loredana Smith

“As many as 40 per cent 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,” said research team leader Dr Amanda Kijas.

“Nature has created the most elegant* and sophisticated mechanisms*, and we can repurpose them to save people from dying due to uncontrolled bleeding,” she said.

“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 haemophilia* and those using blood thinners.”

media_cameraUniSA research team leader Dr Amanda Kijas with PhD candidate Ramanathan Yegappan. Picture: supplied

Dr Kijas, who worked alongside AIBN Director Professor Alan Rowan, Emeritus Professor Martin Lavin and PhD candidate Ramanathan Yegappan, said current first aid treatment using gauze* products often did not stop bleeding in an emergency.

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

“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.”

media_cameraCurrent first aid treatment using gauze often did not stop bleeding in an emergency and it is hoped protein in the venom of eastern brown snakes, pictured, and the scaled viper, will form the basis of an effective alternative. Picture: supplied.

The study, published in Advanced Health Care Materials, received funding from the US Department of Defense, with blood donated by the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood.

The venom gel is being clinically tested ahead of potential commercial production in collaboration* with UQ School of Biomedical* Sciences Professor Mark Midwinter. The research team is also exploring how the technology could be used to treat burns and trauma injuries.

GLOSSARY

  • venom: poisonous liquid produced by some snakes, insects, and spiders when they bite
  • paramedics: trained to give medical aid, especially in an emergency, but not doctors
  • elegant: in science, an elegant solution usually refers to something very simple and clever
  • mechanisms: ways of doing something, especially planned or part of a working system
  • haemophilia: bleeding disorder in which the blood doesn’t clot properly
  • gauze: very thin, light cloth, used to make clothing and cover cuts
  • accelerate: speed up, hurry up, go faster
  • collaboration: partnership, alliance, working with others
  • biomedical: science dealing with drugs, medical techniques and the biology of living creatures

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. How many times less blood loss occurred when the venom was applied?
  2. Which two snakes produce the protein that may help stop uncontrolled bleeding?
  3. What product is the team hoping to produce for pharmacies and first aid kits?
  4. What proportion of trauma-related deaths come from uncontrolled bleeding?
  5. The research team is also assessing how the technology might be applied to treat what?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. How can snakes save lives?
Design a diagram or storyboard for an animation. Your diagram or animation should show how otherwise deadly snake venom can help to save lives.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Visual Communication Design

2. Extension
The team that has created the gel to stop bleeding is investigating how the same technology can be used to help people who have burns or suffer traumatic injuries. Think about what the venom can do for bleeding. How do you think it could be used to help people with other types of injuries? Write a list of as many ideas as you can think of. For each idea, write a sentence explaining your idea.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Science; Health and Physical Education

VCOP ACTIVITY
Adjectives
An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns.

Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article.

Did you find any repeat adjectives or are they all different?

Extension:
Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.

Have you used any in your writing?

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