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UA work on product to buy time after snake bite

Posted at 7:13 PM, Apr 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-16 01:22:57-04

With just a slither and a quick strike, a person could find themselves becoming one of the estimated 300 people bitten by snakes in our state each year. With many hikers and campers often far from medical care, the clock is usually not on your side. But, new research at the University of Arizona is hoping to put precious minutes, or even hours - back in the hands of victims. 

For Tucsonans and people in the southwest, desert dwellers - like snakes - are not too uncommon. Especially this time of year and especially for those who love the outdoors. 

"People are walking along a trail - they are stopping and picking up something and there's a curled-up snake they don't see and they get bit," Dr. Vance Nielsen explained.

Dr. Nielsen is a Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona. 

He hopes new research will buy time after a bite. 

"If you're bit in town, that's one thing," Dr. Nielsen said. "But, if you're bit at Mount Lemmon - it may be a bit of a time, or worse yet, somewhere out in Saguaro National Park. So, it maybe a couple of hours before you can get airlifted out or something of that nature."

For a little over a year, researchers were lead by Dr. Nielsen who is collaborating with Dr. Leslie Boyer. Boyer is the founding director of UA's VIPER Institute and associate professor of pathology.

The team has been developing a product that will delay or prevent the venom's effects.

"To have something that will sort of put your blood into a 'snake-proof' mode, or what I call stealth fibrinogen - so, that the venom can't see it for a number of hours, hopefully - it buys you time," Dr. Nielsen explained. 

Fibrinogen is an essential protein that allowed blood to clot and if a person is struck, the venom can destroy that function. 

The goal is to put this product in first aid kits and ambulances, even hospitals - making sure it is used almost immediately after a strike. But, that will take some serious time.

"It takes a few years," Dr. Nielsen laughed. "We have a government and a fair amount of regulations."

However, he is hoping to make it a feasible product within the next five years.