National Geographic News reported in February that Indian scientists have found a method to use poultry eggs to produce an inexpensive snake bite antidote that could potentially save thousands of lives each year.
Snake bites are a serious problem in India, with National Geographic reporting that there are 300,000 such cases each year with as many as ten percent of victims dying because they do not receive anti-venom in time.
The current method of producing the treatment is to immunize horses against the venom of the cobra, common krait, saw-scaled viper and Russell’s viper. The horse antibodies are then used as an antidote in humans (of course, PETA will likely soon have a “Snake Antivenin is Horse’s Blood” campaign any day now). This is a very slow process.
National Geographic describes the new process that Indian researchers are attempting to perfect,
Very young chickens are immunized with small doses of the target-snake venom and as these animals grow older they develop in their blood special proteins which act as antidotes against the toxin, according to the researchers.
As the chickens become hens and start egg production, it has been found that the antivenin proteins are passed on, accumulating in the yolk. The eggs are then harvested for extraction of the proteins used to make the antidote.
The research has even garnered the endorsement of India’s most prominent animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi,
Production of diagnostic and therapeutic products in chicken represent a refinement and reduction in animal use, and the collection of blood is replaced by extraction of antibody from egg yolk. As chickens produce larger amounts of antibodies, there is a reduction in the number of animals we need to use.
Poultry eggs may yield snake antivenin, experts say. Pallava Bagla, National Geographic News, February 11, 2003.
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