New Gel Made From Snake Venom Stops Bleeding In Under 10 Seconds

 Pit Viper Venom Helps Stop Bleeding: New hydrogel investigated for coagulant propertiesPit Viper Venom Helps Stop Bleeding: New hydrogel investigated for coagulant properties


People on the blood thinner Xarelto, aka rivaroxaban, are possibly familiar with the fact that one of the many uses of snake venom is as an anticoagulant. That's right, a derivative of the same stuff that can kill you or at the very least ruin your day, week or month — depending on how long your hospital stay and resultant convalescence period is — is also used to help people from forming blood clots.

Now scientists are telling us that a bi-product of snake venom called batroxobin can clot blood in under 10 seconds. So, what gives with the contradictory information? That's because the venom used for a new clotting gel comes from two species of South American pit vipers that are not the source of the anticoagulant derivative.

Blood Thinners vs. Coagulants

While blood thinners carry the potential for saving thousands of lives yearly, coagulants or clotting products are equally as important. Sure, blood thinners can help stave off the long-term effects of a lifetime of abusing pork, red meat and dairy products, but clotting medications can save lives on the spot — and in this case almost instantly. Remarkably, tests showed that the new gel stopped a wound from bleeding in as little as six seconds, and further prodding or manipulation of the wound minutes later did not reopen it.

Think about it: ERs, battlefields and use with first responders before and during transport to medical facilities. There are so many practical applications it's mind-boggling. If this new gel were packaged for home or personal use, it could change the face of first aid completely. This would be especially useful for facial cuts on the forehead and around the eyes, such as boxers receive, that seem to bleed so profusely.

Medical Breakthroughs

Scientists at Rice University in Houston, TX, have been experimenting with a liquid form of the coagulant that could be injected at the site of a wound. It would then change forms and turn into a hydrogel that conforms to the wound and helps seal it. This is very similar to the concept of using super glue in a pinch to close a wound, only the Rice team's mixture promotes clotting.

The gel isn’t taken directly from snakes, but contains genetically modified batroxobin combined with synthetic, self-assembling nanofibers and purified to reduce the risk of introducing contaminants. They've recently reported their findings in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering.

They're not the first to recognize batroxobin's properties as a coagulant. They got the idea from researchers who studied it as far back as 1936, where it was investigated for use in patients on heparin, a well-known blood thinner and one of the oldest drugs currently in widespread clinical use.


Rice University Scientists Investigate Snake Venom Hydrogel: Jeffrey Hartgerink, left, and Vivek KumarRice University Scientists Investigate Snake Venom Hydrogel: Jeffrey Hartgerink, left, and Vivek Kumar


Blood Thinners & Surgery

Individuals facing surgery, whether planned or emergency, are at higher risk for bleeding out during their procedures. That's why so many people have to stop their anticoagulants days prior to their medical events. In the case of an emergency, though, physicians don't have the luxury of operating under more ideal circumstances like that, and that's where this new hydrogel comes in.

Due to this knowledge, Jeffrey Hartgerink, Vivek Kumar and the rest of the Rice chemists involved in the project feel the gel may be most useful for surgeries. “From a clinical perspective, that’s far and away the most important issue here,” Hartgerink said. “There’s a lot of different things that can trigger blood coagulation, but when you’re on heparin, most of them don’t work, or they work slowly or poorly. That obviously causes problems if you’re bleeding."

SB50 Hydrogel

The new clotting gel derived from snake venom has been dubbed SB50. While batroxobin is already FDA approved, SB50 will require approval, a process that will likely take several more years of testing before it can be utilized outside of the laboratory. Hartgerink, Kumar and fellow researchers Navindee Wickremasinghe and Siyu (Kalian) Shi are nonetheless confident in its potential.

“We think SB50 has great potential to stop surgical bleeding, particularly in difficult cases in which the patient is taking heparin or other anti-coagulants,” Hartgerink was quoted as saying. Now, the rest of the world will just have to wait and see and hope for an over-the-counter version to become available for inclusion in first aid kits everywhere.