Scientists pursue universal snakebite cure using HIV antibody techniques

2020/10/16 18:26

Today's Vocabulary

1. lethal (adj)
able to cause or causing death; extremely dangerous

2. antidote (n)  
a chemical, especially a drug that limits the effects of a poison

3. comprised (v)  
to have things or people as parts or members; to consist of

4. adverse (adj)
having a negative or harmful effect on something

5. venom (n)
a poisonous liquid that some snakes, insects, etc. produce and can put into another animal’s body by biting or stinging

6. anaphylactic (adj)  
resulting from an extreme and dangerous allergic reaction to something eaten or touched

7. consortium (n)
an organization of several businesses or banks joining together as a group for a shared purpose

Scientists pursue universal snakebite cure using HIV antibody techniques

A new consortium of venom specialists in India, Kenya, Nigeria, Britain and the US will locate and develop antibodies to treat critical illness from snakebites, which harm nearly 3 million people worldwide each year.

The consortium will seek an antidote comprised of “humanised antibodies” rather than conventional animal-based therapies, which can sometimes cause adverse effects in snakebite victims, said Prof Robert Harrison, who heads the centre for snakebite research and interventions at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

“We’re pursuing what we call the ‘next generation’ of snakebite therapies, which we hope will be able to treat bites from any snake in Africa or India, in a community setting, and without the need for a cold chain,” said Harrison.

Snake venom kills 138,000 people every year and permanently disables another 400,000. Victims are from the poorest parts of Africa and India, where access to antidotes ranges from non-existent to minimal.

Existing anti-venom therapies rely on methods from the 19th century: snakes are milked for their venom, which is then injected into large animals like horses, whose antibodies are harvested for use in humans. 

But these antivenoms can have harmful – and sometimes lethal – effects on patients, said Harrison, ranging from severe abdominal cramps to anaphylactic shock, because the antibodies are generated from horses or sheep and therefore “foreign”.

The consortium nonetheless believes their combined knowledge may radically alter the way snakebites are dealt with globally.


  1. What would you do if you were bitten by a snake?
  2. What do you think snakes are like as pets?
  3. How would you help someone with a fear of snakes?

“Every great story seems to begin with a snake.”

Nicolas Cage