Science & Environment

Universal snake anti-venom planned by researchers

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Media captionDr Robert Harrison from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine explains how milking the venom from deadly snakes could save lives

Scientists are attempting to develop the first universal anti-venom against the bite of every deadly snake in sub-Saharan Africa.

Snake bites kill an estimated 30,000 people a year in the region.

The research is being conducted at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which houses more than 400 snakes, using venom milked from up to 80 of the reptiles each week.

The project is being funded by the Medical Research Council.

Dr Robert Harrison, the lead scientist for the research, said: "Not only do we expect that our anti-venom will be cheaper, and safer and much more effective than anything else, but it will be able to be used anywhere south of the Sahara.

"That combination of factors makes it unique. These snakes are contributing the basic resource for a brand new medical product."

The BBC's science reporter Victoria Gill says the snakes are milked by holding their heads over a beaker while poison squirts from their fangs.

Researchers will use the proteins from all of the collected venom to make the universal snake bite treatment.

They will add stabilizing chemicals so that it can be stored in the African heat.

The aim is to provide a life-saving medicine for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in that part of the world, who are in constant risk of a deadly bite.

Those who survive a bite can still be left with severe disabilities.

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