Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Amputation Alternative
27 June 2016

Amputation Alternative

The saw-scaled viper (pictured) is considered the deadliest snake in the Indian subcontinent. Even if its bite doesn't kill, there’s a good chance the victim will be badly maimed and may require an amputation. That’s because life-saving antivenom generally fails to prevent tissue destruction at the bite. Researchers have now discovered that it’s the victim’s own white blood cells racing to counteract the venom that actually causes the local damage. The cells rapidly congregate at the injury and purposefully explode themselves to block the venom’s spread. But the sacrifice comes at a cost because the cells also block local blood flow, promote venom accumulation, and prevent antivenom access – all of which exacerbates tissue destruction. Using a special enzyme to destroy the blockages, researchers were able to prevent local tissue damage in venom-injected mice. Combining the enzyme treatment with antivenom might therefore save both life and limb from deadly snakebite.

Written by Ruth Williams

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