Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

OSU-CHS News > 2015

July 2, 2015

OSU-CHS biochemistry professor looking to improve snake antivenom


Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences researcher Charles G. Sanny, Ph.D., is working to determine the effectiveness of antivenom to improve treatment options for people who have been bitten by a poisonous snake.

Sanny, professor of biochemistry and chair of the OSU-CHS Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, studies the interaction between snake venom and antivenom, a mixture of isolated antibodies derived from the serum of sheep or horses that have been immunized with venom. Antivenom, also known as antivenin, is used to prevent death or illness from a poisonous snakebite.

“Believe me, if you get bit by a poisonous snake such as a diamondback rattlesnake, you will be glad that an antivenom is available,” he said.

Seven types of venomous snakes can be found in Oklahoma, including cottonmouths and copperheads. The diamondback rattlesnake has the most potent venom, according to the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information.

Every year, about 7,000-8,000 people receive venomous snake bites in the U.S. Because people regularly seek medical care for snake bites, they only result in about five deaths each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Using a method called size exclusion chromatography, Sanny is analyzing how venom and antivenom bind together. The chemical interaction could hold clues on how to improve antivenom. The venom must bind with antivenom to provide any protection against death, he said.

Large molecular complexes are formed when antivenom and venom combine. Sanny uses size exclusion chromatography to separate the large venom-antivenom complexes from unreacted venom molecules to determine how effective the antivenom is in binding venom molecules.

“Serum sickness can take place when the antivenem antibodies are too large,” Sanny said. “Our immune systems can recognize the sheep or horse antibodies as foreign molecules and attack the antibodies.” Most commercially available antivenoms today contain smaller sized antibody fragments that still bind to venom but are not as likely to produce serum sickness.

Only one commercial antivenom for poisonous snakes, like rattlesnakes, is currently available in the United States.

“Understanding the biochemistry of venom and antivenin reactions will have a direct impact on the ability of physicians, especially family and emergency room physicians, to provide treatment,” said OSU-CHS President Kayse Shrum, D.O. “Research like Dr. Sanny’s at OSU Center for Health Sciences has the potential to impact the health and well-being of Oklahomans and people across the globe.”

To learn more about Sanny’s work and other research at OSU Center for Health Sciences, visit the Research Spotlight website.

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