With a Flash of Light, a Snake-Venom ‘Super Glue’ Can Stop Wounds Bleeding in Seconds
Venom is typically associated with nightmares. Animals that wield it send shivers down our spines instinctively.
However, scientists are elucidating useful applications for these potent compounds that may cause us so much pain and damage (sometimes unintentionally). Recently, we have seen advancements in the use of several forms of venoms, ranging from bee venom as a cancer treatment to platypus venom as a diabetes treatment.
A study team has invented the next venom-based medical breakthrough: a quick-acting “super glue” that stops bleeding in less than a minute.
While synthetic adhesives may be more malleable, their breakdown may be hazardous. Meanwhile, natural bioadhesives are more likely to have “have excellent biocompatibility” but limited overall integrity and adherence, as the authors describe in their new paper.
To address these shortcomings, researchers developed a bioadhesive gel using venom from the common lancehead pit viper (Bothrops atrox).
The common lancehead pit viper, one of the most dangerous snakes in the region, hunts the tropical lowlands of South America in search of small animals, birds, and reptiles, which it kills with venom that damages their vascular systems.
The venom induces excessive clotting, to the point where the prey’s body is unable to produce any clots at all and instead bleeds abundantly, a condition known as consumption coagulopathy.
The researchers isolated the chemical reptilase (or batroxobin) that is responsible for blood coagulation. This enzyme is already utilized in laboratory diagnostic procedures to determine the levels of fibrinogen – a substance produced in our livers and converted by our bodies for use in blood clots.
Using previous research as a foundation, the team added reptilase to a methacrylated gelatin to create a fast-acting tissue adhesive. Previously, while the gelatin demonstrated promise in terms of its ability to be regulated and set using light, it was unable to adhere well in the presence of blood. That was easily resolved with the inclusion of reptilase.
“This’super glue’ can be applied during trauma, injury, and emergency bleeding by simply squeezing the tube and shining a visible light, such as a laser pointer, over it for a few seconds. Even a flashlight on a smartphone will suffice “Kibret Mequanint, a Western University bioengineer and one of the study’s authors, stated.
Reptilase’s quick conversion of fibrinogen to clot-forming fibrin allows it to seal wounds in 45 seconds, less than half the time required by the current best alternative in the field, fibrin glue.
The glue was tested in rats on significant bleeding wounds such as a deep skin incision and burst aorta. It did not require extra stitches and was not washed away by the blood.
“We envision that this tissue ‘super glue’ will be used in saving lives on the battlefield or other accidental traumas like car crashes,” Mequanint explained. “The applicator easily fits in first aid kits too.”
However, clinical trials on the treatment are required before we can proceed.
This is only one of numerous ongoing studies into the use of venom components to save lives.
Another team presented findings this week indicating that spider venom may be beneficial to heart attack victims.
Hi1a, a tiny protein from the Fraser Island funnel-web spider, is capable of suppressing the signal for cell death induced by oxygen deprivation. The researchers demonstrated that they could utilize it to prolong the life of beating heart cells in the laboratory.
“For people who are literally on death’s door, this could be life-changing,” said Peter Macdonald of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.
Earlier this year, Markus Muttenthaler of the University of Vienna and colleagues conducted a review of the research on biomolecules such as those produced from venoms and discovered that more than 150 peptides are currently in clinical development, with up to 600 in preclinical tests.
Systematic investigation of animal venoms “allows us to take advantage of the vast natural and over millions of years evolutionary-selected peptide libraries for therapeutic lead discovery,” explained Muttenthaler, whose own research has examined the use of spider and scorpion venom for chronic pain relief.
While efforts to convert these chemicals into useful products continue, a large number of natural biomolecules remain undiscovered. Yet the massive destruction we are wreaking on the natural world means that remedies will almost certainly become extinct along with the species they are associated with before we have an opportunity to discover them.
Science Advances published the study.