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Australian Tiger Snake Study - Press Item

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Inviato da Wes von Papinešu on Aprile 07, 1999 at 12:41:07:

LAS-VEGAS SUN (Nevada, USA) 04 April 99 Seeking Cures From Deadly Snakes
Taranna, Australia (AP): Snake handler Anthony Brain works daily with hundreds of deadly tiger snakes, but though he's been bitten 30 times he won't take the antidote injections.
Eight of these were severe bites that left him quite ill, but he refuses to take antivenin because he is afraid of hypodermic needles, choosing instead to weather the effects of each fanged bite.
"The scientists want to take a sample of my blood, but I won't let them because I won't let anyone go near me with a needle," he says.
"One night I came home after being bitten and I started throwing up and lapsing in and out of consciousness. I was bleeding out of my nose and ears, and my lungs started to tighten, so I thought I'd better call an ambulance. I woke up the next morning by the phone. I had passed out.
"So I know I'm only pushing my luck, I'm really pushing it," he said, smiling.
A tiger snake bite can cause a range of reactions, including clotting, hemorrhaging and heart attack.
Its venom is the most toxic in the world. The tiger snake is the fourth-deadliest snake in the world after Australia's "fierce snake," the inland taipan and the brown snake, which inject more venom in their bite, making them more dangerous.
Brain, who likes to be known simply as "Smiley," takes great comfort in knowing that working closely with tiger snakes on a daily basis may one day result in the cure for a serious illness.
Brain manages The World Tiger Snake Center, the only breeding facility in the world for these reptiles.
The center, 65 miles south of Hobart in Tasmania, serves as both a medical research facility and tourist attraction.
One of the reasons the snake center opened 14 months ago was to boost declining tourist numbers to the Tasman Peninsula after the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur's colonial prison ruins, when a gunman killed 35 people.
"I wouldn't be doing this job if it wasn't for a good cause," says Smiley, as he picks up a large black tiger snake and lets it slither around his arm.
"This is far too dangerous a job to be doing it for the tourism alone.
"I only get paid $10 an hour and I work seven days a week, but if one day these snakes can help find the cure for just one illness, then I know I've done my bit in life."
There are about 1,600 tiger snakes at the center, housed in circular fenced pits for public viewing. The snakes were bred in captivity from some taken from a group of islands in the Bass Strait, including Flinders and King Islands.
The center is owned by Analytica, a Melbourne pharmaceutical company. A percentage of the $5 entry fee is allocated to research.
Smiley regularly extracts blood and venom from the snakes and sends it to scientists in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne, who are researching treatments for asthma, arthritis and some forms of cancer, as well as a new antivenin.
Smiley is in regular contact with the scientists by phone, but says there is "no way" they'll come anywhere near the snakes.
"Half the time I can't understand what they're talking about, but I can assure you," he tells tourists gathered around the snake pit, "that the research is going so well it's not funny. The owner company is about to be listed on an American stock exchange. The scientists are rapt about how things are going, and all the big medical companies are sitting up waiting and listening."
Research at the University of Technology in Sydney has identified a protein serum in snake blood that is able to inhibit the toxic activity of the venom.
This protein may have the potential to be developed into a universal antivenin for all snake bites, as well as other drugs with fewer side effects than existing medications.
Associate professor Kevin Broady, of the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Technology in Sydney, says the work is novel in that the syndicate of researchers is working with snake blood, not just venom.
"No drug will cure a disease completely -- they can only treat," explains Broady. "But the work we're doing will give us another family of drugs which could give us a new way of further controlling inflammatory diseases."
Smiley claims there is no other place in the world where captive snakes are thriving so well.
Tiger snakes give birth to live young, usually about 25-30 at a time. The babies, often eaten by the adults, are moved to safety and hand-fed with live baby mice. Once fully grown, they are fed day-old chickens every two to three weeks.

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