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Nanofiber gel and snake venom work together to stop the bleeding

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Researchers at Rice University announced a novel use for batroxobin, a hemotoxic component in the venom of two South American pit viper species. They've figured out how to leverage it as a potent coagulant -- when combined with a nanofiber hydrogel called SB50 -- that could save countless lives in surgery. Medical science has actually been employing batroxobin as a topical clotting agent and thrombosis treatment since the mid 1930s. Used along with the gel, now it's shown a capability to stop the flow of blood even if the patient is on heparin, a powerful anticoagulant administered before some surgeries.

The Rice University team combined batroxobin's natural clotting abilities with nanofiber hydrogel they've been working on to create an ultra powerful blood-stopping agent. Nanofiber hydrogels are basically like self-setting Jell-O, since they can be injected as a liquid and automatically firm into a wound-sealing gel that mimics the body's own processes. In testing with both normal and heparin-treated rats, the baxtroxobin-laced hydrogel stopped bleeding within six seconds and managed to keep wounds closed despite repeated prodding and pokes within one minute. It outperformed either method used separately as well as other conventional options.

"Heparin blocks the function of thrombin, an enzyme that begins a cascade of reactions that lead to the clotting of blood," Rice chemist Jeffrey Hartgerink said in a statement. "Batroxobin is also an enzyme with similar function to thrombin, but its function is not blocked by heparin."

"We think SB50 has great potential to stop surgical bleeding, particularly in difficult cases in which the patient is taking heparin or other anti-coagulants," Hartgerink said. "SB50 takes the powerful clotting ability of this snake venom and makes it far more effective by delivering it in an easily localized hydrogel that prevents possible unwanted systemic effects from using batroxobin alone." Interestingly, the batroxobin isn't gathered from snakes, but rather genetically modified bacteria (thanks, GMO).

[Image Credit: Associated Press]

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