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December 25, 2012

BehindTheMedspeak: Significant Advance in Black Widow Spider Bite Treatment

Interior_2-imgAracmynP_en

Long story short: Since the 1930s Merck has been making antivenom for black widow bites but side effects — fatal in a few cases — and poor sales caused the company to limit distribution in 2009. Many doctors prefer not to use Merck's formulation and instead treat just the symptoms, the worst being two days of crippling pain, since black widow bites rarely kill.

Now comes molecular biologist Alejandro Alagón of the National Autonomous University of Mexico with a new antivenom that is safer and less expensive.

Wrote Erik Vance in the January 2013 Scientific American, "The method is based on the one scientists used in the 1800s: they inject venom into animals that have powerful natural defenses against the toxin. They then harvest and purify the antibodies, which are Y-shaped molecules that attach their forked end to the venom and neutralize it. In the case of antibodies directed against black widow bites, the molecule's tail (the bottom of the Y) can interact with the human body and occasionally cause a negative reaction."

"Alagón and his team came up with a twist on the old formula: they chemically cut off the tail of the antivenom antibody, making the Y into a V to lower the risk of side effects. Alagón says the updated formula [Aracmyn PLUS]... is safer than the old one and cheaper than a hospital stay — it can eliminate symptoms in 30 minutes."

Because the new antivenom is much cheaper to produce, it marks a huge advance in poor countries unable to afford the older, pricier drug.

December 25, 2012 at 04:01 AM | Permalink


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Comments

A few months back I was bitten by this spider's Australian cousin, the Red Back. I can vouch for the pain it causes, though it is bearable. The strangest part was the area around the bite sweated profusely whilst the rest of the arm was perfectly normal (or as normal as I get at least).

Posted by: Graeme | Dec 27, 2012 1:36:13 AM

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