Thursday, 19 September 2013

Biting back: Taking the sting out of spider venom

Brown recluse spiders bite more than 7,000 people in Brazil every year causing serious skin lesions and even death. The anti-venom used as treatment comes at the expense of many animal lives. But could a breakthrough in synthetic spider venom lead to a more humane solution?

"The first time I was bitten, I nearly died," says Adelaide Fabienski Maia, a school assistant from Curitiba.

"I put my shorts on in the morning and felt a bite but didn't realise what it was. It wasn't until the evening that my face started burning up. I looked at the bite area and it was red."

Adelaide was soon rushed to hospital with the classic target-shaped lesion caused by the venom eating away at her skin.

It was only thanks to a dose of anti-venom that she's still around to tell the tale.

But the anti-venom currently available comes with its own risks - mostly to the animals involved in the production process.

Venom is milked from thousands of brown spiders before being injected into horses. This triggers an immune response that creates life-saving anti-venom for humans - while drastically reducing the horses' own lifespan.

Now scientists in Brazil have come up with a synthetic venom alternative that could save many of those lives.

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