When you think of a snake I doubt the first thing to come to your mind is that they are heroes. In fact, I’m sure your first thoughts would fall somewhere in the realm of deadly and dangerous. In fact, just the other day a slew of venomous pythons were just extracted from a local park in Camas, Washington. However, it’s possible that science could now be offering a new perspective to the way in which the public views snakes. IFL Science just announced that researchers have found that a specific ingredient in snake venom has the capability to stop bleeding and quite possibly save lives.
The academic journal Science Advances recently released a research article pertaining to the bioadhesive properties of snake venom, specifically to the venom secreted by lancehead snakes. This highly venomous viper is scientifically classified as a Bothrops atrox and has an enzyme in its venom that is unique to its species of snake. The enzyme that scientists extracted from the venom is called reptilase and has the capacity to clot large open wounds in about 45 seconds. That is approximately 10 times more rapid than the currently preferred adhesive, clinical fibrin glue. They determined this by testing its capabilities on a series of wounds like ruptured aortas, and severely injured livers in rats.
The lancehead snake, who is native to South America and hunts mainly small rodents, kills its prey by injecting them with the venom which then ceases the animal’s ability to clot their own wounds which in turn causes the rodent to bleed to death by a process called consumption coagulation. According to Science Alert, scientists noticed this and were able to identify the exact protein in the snake’s venom that caused the effect and then reverse-engineered it to do the opposite. Once the protein was isolated researchers fused the reptilase with a gelatin to form what has been referred to as a “bio-super glue”.
Kibret Mequanint, a bio-engineer and professor at Western University who has been involved in making bio-materials such as this for decades, explained that “During trauma, injury and emergency bleeding, this ‘super glue’ can be applied by simply squeezing the tube and shining a visible light, such as a laser pointer, over it for few seconds. Even a smartphone flashlight will do the job.” This is a ground-breaking medical advancement that has the possibility of saving lives not only in a hospital setting but also, perhaps more importantly, out in the field where medical help might not necessarily be readily available.
For now, the snake-derived bonding agent is still undergoing clinical trials, but in the future, it’s quite possible that this bio-super glue could easily hold a spot next to the band-aids and smelling salts in your average run-of-the-mill first-aid kit and can even help you out if you ever find yourself in the nightmarish situation of being trapped on your bed with a pack of snakes beneath you like Trish Wilcher of Augusta, Georgia recently did.
In all seriousness, however, while we might not be seeing snakes star alongside the likes of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, this medical breakthrough does prove that snakes certainly do have something to contribute to saving lives, albeit in the most round-about of ways.