Venom research

Dr Rob Harrison & Paul Rowley ARVU

The Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit hosts the largest collection of venomous snakes in the UK, for use in clinical and scientific studies to improve the efficacy, safety and affordability of anti-venom to treat victims of snakebite, with a focus on the rural poor of Africa.

The Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit, led by Dr Rob Harrison, has expanded over the past year with new staff and snakes.

Dr. Nick Casewell was appointed as a Lecturer on the LSTM tenure track at the same time as his research on the first snake genome was published in PNAS. These projects, on the non-venomous Burmese python and the venomous king cobra, focused on the evolution of the venom system. The unit extended work by demonstrating that a complex combination of genetic and non-genetic factors result in major medically-important differences in snake venom composition - even between very similar snake species. This is a timely research output as the unit embarks upon a 4 year MRC-funded project to utilise novel immuno-proteomic strategies to develop a single polyspecific, non-cold chain liquid snake antivenom with unparalleled sub-Saharan African efficacy. This exciting project has the potential to greatly reduce the mortality (~32,000 annual deaths) and morbidity (~95,000 surviving victims suffering permanent disability) of snakebite in sub-Saharan Africa. It also required the importation of hundreds of new snakes into our Herpetarium (which now houses 650 specimens of 56 species of venomous snakes – the most diverse academic collection in Europe).

The unit has also been involved in the Liverpool World Museum ‘Sssnakes Alive’ exhibition which will broadcast the medical importance of tropical snakebite, and LSTM’s role in reducing snakebite deaths and disabilities, to an estimated 400,000 visitors.