Australian researchers discover new antidote to deadly box jellyfish venom

May 2, 2019

The Australian box jellyfish is the world’s most venomous sea creature, with numerous tentacles that can grow up to 10 feet. They populate the coastal waters in the north and west of Australia, particularly during the October-May “stinger season” – a box jellyfish has enough venom to kill over 60 humans.

In a molecular dissection of how its venom works, researchers have chanced upon a medicine which would block the symptoms of the extremely painful, paralysing sting of the box jellyfish.Associate Professor Greg Neely of Sydney University, Australia, and colleagues were studying the box jellyfish pain pathway, which was discovered to be blockable with drugs.

The venom used in the study was collected from a box jellyfish off the waters of Cairns by fellow Australian Associate Professor Jamie Seymour at James Cook University, and then studied using genome-editing landmark technology CRISPR to identify its mode of action and how to counteract it.

A pre-existing drug was found to block the tissue scarring and pain related to jellyfish stings when tested as a venom antidote in mice. The researchers are unsure if the antidote will prevent a heart attack, but will be effective in blocking the venom if applied to the sting site within 15 minutes of contact.

Box jellyfish antivenom already exists and is available in some Northern Territory and Queensland hospitals and clinics as an injection, but the new medicine could eventually be marketed as a topical cream or spray.The Sydney University researchers have begun looking for sources to push it into the drug market.

However, some other experts are apprehensive about the study.

Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin, Director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service, has said vinegar should remain the preferred first treatment when dealing with jellyfish stings, prior to hospitalisation, as a topical ointment could activate the stinging cells and inject more venom into the body, potentially triggering a cardiac arrest: “This is not about pain relief — it’s about saving someone’s life.”


Category: Education, Features

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