Opossums are not exactly the most well loved of wild animals. For the most part people tend to despise these little critters, and often associate them with rabies. However, this vastly disliked little animal just may save you or your friends life one day. Opossums are one of the lucky animals that are naturally immune to a variety of snake venoms. One researcher was fascinated when she found out that a specific protein in opossums was the reason behind their innate immunity to snake bites, and decided that she could use that to possibly make a broad spectrum antivenom that could save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world every year.
In the United States alone snakebites are the cause of 100,000 deaths per year. What is worse, is that in rural areas where snake bites occur most often people don’t always have access or the funds to afford antivenoms. The person that is usually the victim also tends to be the breadwinner, as they will get bitten working in the fields or outside, as well as when they are heading home at night when there is less visibility. This means that not just one person suffers from these tragedies but the entire family, emotionally as well as financially. It can threaten some families very livelihoods and survival.
It was a researcher from Texas, Binie V. Lipps, that traced back the opossums immunity to snake bites to the first 10 or so amino acids in the protein, and subsequently developed a peptide from the sequence. Claire Komives, a chemical engineering professor at San Jose State University, decided to take things further and use that knowledge to develop a low-cost method to synthesize the peptide. When tested, these low-cost peptides worked like a charm, working to protect mice from rattlesnake venom. Her most recent research proved that the peptide also completely protected mice from the venom of two other extremely deadly snakes from Africa. To top it all off, the peptide would only cost 10 cents per dose to make. Now that sounds like a good deal to me.
Do you think this peptide could change the way we treat snake bites across the world? How far could the benefits of this new antivenom reach – the remotest villages in Africa, people living in the Amazon?