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Snake solution found down under

by Heather Leggett

Dr Aye Aye Myint learns breakthrough antivenin production techniquesEarlier this month a scientist from Myanmar (Burma) travelled to Adelaide with newfound hope of finding a solution to the thousands of deaths by snakebite that occur in her country each year.

Dr Aye Aye Myint, a Senior Scientist from the Department of Medical Research in Myanmar was funded by the World Health Organisation to learn how to make an antivenom to treat envenomation by the widespread Russell's Viper snakes.

Peter Mirtschin and Frank Madaras from UniSA's Venom Research Group and Dr Tim Kuchel and Richard Turnbull from the Veterinary Science Division of the Institute for Medical and Veterinary Science, are developers of  the technology, which facilitates production of  an 'affinity purified' avian antivenom made from the egg yolk IgY immunoglobulin.

Madaras said that affinity purified avian antivenom is superior to traditional equine antivenom.

"It offers a more purified form of the antibodies that attack specific snake venoms. As a result, it is a safer and more effective means of treatment," he said.

"Death by snake bite from the Russell's Viper presents a significant problem in Myanmar. A prolific breeder, the snake thrives in the tropical climate and accounts for 70 per cent of snakebites in the region.

"Though their toxicity is less than that of the Australian Brown Snake, their powerful jaws, half inch large fangs and large head result in an exceptionally large amount of venom being injected during each envenomation, with death a likely result if treatment is not sought."

Dr Myint, who was in Adelaide for six weeks for the intensive traineeship, said snakebites are an almost daily occurrence in Myanmar.

"There are a lot of snakes hidden in the fields where farmers work, where the snakes go to hunt their favoured prey of mice and rats," she said. "For many farmers, fear of snakebite is a part of daily life."

But she said that new technology brings new hope for what is becoming a globally acknowledged health issue.

"A tiny amount of antivenom can save a person's life. I will be able to take the skills I've learned in Adelaide and will use them to implement the production of affinity purified avian antivenom specific to the Russell's viper," she said.

"The training I received here will have positive effects in Myanmar indefinitely."