Snake Bite Treatment Derived From Plants
September 17, 2012

Researchers Explore Native Plants As Natural Snake Bite Cure

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists are studying various plants native to Africa in an attempt to develop new, natural treatments for snakebites.

Marianne Molander from the University of Copenhagen's Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences has been working with a Danish team to try and find a locally available herbal antidote for snake venom.

“Snake venom antidotes are expensive, it´s often a long way to the nearest doctor and it can be difficult to store the medicine properly in the warm climate. As a result many local people rely on natural resources for treating potentially fatal bites,” explained pharmacist and PhD student Marianne Molander a press release.

The team is investigating African plants that have previously proven effective in treating snakebites. They aim to help provide standardized guidelines for the use of plants in remote areas where local people have limited access to medical specialists and supplies.

“We have particularly focused on the snake species Bitis arietans, which is widespread south of the Sahara," Molander said in the release. "All snake venoms consist of a unique cocktail of enzymes, which results in rapid tissue death."

The team is working with African partners to conduct tests on plants that act as venom antidotes, including 100 plants from Mali, 27 from South Africa and 13 from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Experts say that 100,000 people worldwide die each year from snakebites, and at least three times as many suffer from permanent injuries, disability or amputations due to encounters with the poisonous reptiles. Although a million people in Africa are bitten by a snake each year, only about half of them receive treatment.

While some snake venom can be deadly, modern medicine has also found practical uses for it in the development of medications for the treatment of hypertension, heart failure and diabetic kidney disease. The popular chest pain drug Aggrastat, for instance, was developed using a protein peptide isolated from the venom of an African viper.

A quarter of all new medicinal products registered around the world each year are derived from plants or other naturally compounds. The biologically active defense compounds found within plants can also be useful for developing new drugs.

“In Africa where much of the population can´t afford medicine, there is a tradition of seeking out healers and alternative therapists, before turning to conventional medicine," Molander said in the release.

"Eighty percent visit the healer before they go to the hospital. Traditional herbal medicine is based on centuries of traditions and achievement, so the local shamans and medicine men are often a good place to start when you are looking for active substances with real pharmaceutical effects."